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Tips on How to Say No
Adapted from What to Do When Thereís Too Much to Do (Berrett-Koehler, 2012) by Laura Stack
Your feelings matter. If you want to say no, thereís a reason behind it. Sometimes, you simply have to listen to your own gut. With that in mind, here are some additional tips for saying no.
All you need is love. Do your best to say no in an upbeat way. This sounds like a contradiction in terms, but thereís a big difference between saying ďNot just no, but hell no,Ē and ďIíd love to but just canít take that on right now!Ē A positive rejection can ensure no one gets hurt feelings, especially if you follow up with, ďBut please keep me in mind for any further projects!Ē
Donít make empty promises. If you canít do something (or just donít want to), come right out and say it. Donít make an empty promise and then let it come crashing down around you, leaving your requester in the lurch. If you turn them down flat, they have the opportunity to find someone else. If you find it uncomfortable to say no immediately, ask for a little time to think it over. This will put the person on notice you
might very well refuse them. Then return with your answer promptly and politely.
Donít apologize for or explain yourself. If you canít take on a new task, decline without making an issue out of it and offering a ton of explanations. A simple, ďSorryóIíd love to help out, but I donít have the bandwidth right now,Ē is sufficient. They donít need to know more; in any case, youíre not obliged to justify yourself, no matter how much you might disappoint the other party. Be polite but assertive. This, of course, applies to fellow coworkers. For the boss, youíll need to try negotiation.
Negotiate. If your boss presents you with a task you canít outright refuse, but your plate is undeniably full, donít hesitate to point this out. Openly discuss your current deadlines and workload, and communicate both honestly and clearly. For example, you might say, ďIím currently working on X, Y, and Z projects. As things stand, I believe this additional project is beyond my capacity at the moment, and I want to return quality work in a timely way. Would you like me to hand it off to someone else, hire a contractor, or would you prefer to reprioritize my existing project load for me?Ē
Meet someone halfway. Sometimes itís hard to say no to a request, especially when itís clear someone thinks enough of you to try to tap your expertise. You can arrange to meet people halfway. For example, you might admit youíre already booked up, but make it clear youíll do all you can to help. Or, rather than being a committee member, youíll act in an advisory capacity. Inform the requester you can do the task then, and not now. This solution may satisfy you both if the task isnít time-critical.
Be persistent and consistent. Some people just wonít take no for an answer and will keep bugging you to take on a task, no matter how many times you refuse them. In a case like this one, youíll have to respond to their persistence with persistence of your own. Some people will feel obliged to ask a second time later on; again, this is no big deal if you just say no again. Use this technique with the dysfunctional ones who demand to know why not (see the first tip) or ask over and over, as if they canít believe you refused them. Donít let them wear you down.
Be crystal clear. Be straightforward when turning someone down; say no when you mean no. Donít couch your rejection in obscure terms or beat around the bush; just say no in a direct way, so you donít have to repeat yourself because you confused someone.
Donít worry too much about their feelings. Some people take a turndown as a blow to their self-esteem. This is not your problem. Your goal is to reduce your commitment level, not to help others reduce theirsóand thatís exactly what theyíre attempting when they ask you to take on their tasks.
What to Do When Thereís Too Much To Do
Reduce Tasks, Increase Results, and Save 90 Minutes a Day
By Laura Stack
July 2012; $15.95; 192 pages