The Real Way To Effectively Say No

Sadly I hear too many people say, “I am just so slammed. My job doesn’t allow me to say “no” to my work, my clients, my boss, or my family. I work and worry all the time!” Research from Family Practical Management concluded, that with current technology, the lesson we learned from our parents …..”must get your work done before you can go outside and play” is now misguided in today’s society. We can’t seem to go to bed, leaving our computer with unread e-mails in our inbox.

We live our values from parents who didn’t have 24/7 communications, constant device messages, and news. We are just bombarded constantly. Our parents juggled 2 balls, while we juggle 42.

So the goal is clear: How do we not offend people, stop being a door-mat for every request, and get our lives back?

Diplomacy starts with asking ourselves – Do I have my values and priorities aligned? If we don’t know who we are in our beliefs, ideals and values, we may, inadvertently, give permission to others to help mess up our lives.

Taking time to write down your values and the those activities supporting your core values is critical. We must stand for something or fall for anything. Otherwise we fall victim to other people’s demands, and sacrificing our values leads to feelings of being overwhelmed, exhausted, and out-of-control of our lives.

I recall several years ago doing extra work for Brad, a teammate, that required all weekend and several evening hours to research and complete a powerpoint presentation for executives of another company. A few weeks later I asked Brad how things went, and he said, “Oh, thanks – it was great and appreciate all you did but we didn’t use it. Turns out we didn’t really need it but thanks anyway. Great work Jim!”

It’s great to be needed, and it feels good to get a thank-you, and frustrating when we over-commit to things in the interest of being a nice guy. We sacrifice our time and extra effort, in many cases risking the relationships with those most important in our lives, to be liked by someone who will not even know us in 10 years.

The Worst “No”

I don’t have time. Yes you do – we all have the same amount of time – 24/7, so the inference of the request is trivial.

There is a better way to say no:

The Better “no” (this is great for when we have to repeat the same process, answer the same thing, or fix the same issue multiple times a day)

Part I – “I will fix this with you now, and if I get other requests, will you please reinforce your learning, by teaching others what we review today?” They now are sharing our burden and teaching themselves and others. We then only fix an issue once and others can get help, without you being burdened. Growth and success requires shedding routine tasks as we rescue others- help them save themselves.

And we then say to another asking us for help – Part II – “Yes, I can help you – please contact XXXX, and they will walk you through the latest updates to this issue.”

A recent study from Managing People at Work, stated that if we deflect our requests to other capable people – peers, subordinates, or bosses, the requesting party will only reach out to that person 20% of the time! That means their request 80% of the time was not worth bothering anybody else – but it was worth bothering you?

So many requests are just duplicates, overkill, or flat out unnecessary. Shame on Me!

Wanna Soften the “no” – Gotta Start With “maybe!”

We accept work way too fast and need to explore other options, real timelines, and exact expectations. That exploration process may help lots of work just go away!

The Best “No”…. when asked to do more work, say:

1. Great. Could we review involving other ideas or other people, so each of us has a small job, it’s not just one of us doing a big job?” We win back our life when explore alternatives, ideas, people, and by not doing things for them, rather by thinking with them. The key to saying “no” is less about not doing, and rather saying “yes” to thinking. Thinking to come up with other ways to achieve results. If we just accept tasks instead, we truly risk those values and people we say are most important to us.

2. To a boss or peer – “Ok, and can we discuss my work priorities you gave me, so I can ensure your most important work is done on time and to your satisfaction?” (Let the boss do his own expense report or flights – if he also has you doing other important tasks)

3. As a leader to an employee – “So, this is a “No” now, but let’s review what can be considered to turn this “No” to a “Yes.” ‘No’ on sensitive employee issues are best accepted when we understand the rationale for the “no” now. They may not like the “no”, but they do need to at least understand the “no”.

4. Before I accept this work, can I restate to you exactly what I believe is required and when I believe I can complete it? Then be prepared to discuss who else could be involved or what can be done to achieve excellence. (I love it when they will exactly say – “Oh, never mind it’s not that big of a deal.” Meaning: they didn’t think anything through, and would rather dump on it on you than think it through! Good – They really didn’t see this as a priority either.

Try to have others manage their requests of us. Talking them out of extra work is better than doing work no one appreciates or needs.

The hard part about saying no, is we fear others will see us as not helpful, stubborn, or rude. Reframe the no as let’s think of other options and be very clear on what exactly is expected by when. Help the requester think and we may all win.

Our greater value to any request is in using our mind and heart, not just our hands and feet.

Key to saying “no” –

Help others think, don’t just be a tool.



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