Skills 360 – How to Say No (Part 2)

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Hello and welcome back to the Skills 360 podcast. I’m your host Tim Simmons, and today we’re talking about how to say “no.” That’s right, someone asks you for something or to do something, but you have to say “no”. That’s not always easy, but it’s important.

Think about the results of not saying no. If you accept everything, you’ll have too much to do and the quality of your work will suffer. Timelines will become unrealistic. You will be seen as nice, but possibly unreliable. And for you, it will mean more stress, anxiety and frustration. We’ve all experienced this. We’re overwhelmed with work and realize that we should have said “no” somewhere along the way. And when we only have ourselves to blame, we feel terrible.

In our last episode, we learned some great ways to be firm, clear, and honest when saying “no”. This will help you protect your time, your work, and your reputation. But of course you don’t want to offend anyone. Sometimes we need to manage other people’s feelings when we say no. Or we need to make sure we’re not seen as uncooperative. Today, we’ll look at some ways to do this.

One very common method is to use the word “but”. If your co-worker asks you to sit on a special committee but you don’t have the time, here’s what you can say: “That committee is important, but I have too much work right now so I’m not going to be able to help.” What you notice here is that you still have the clear and firm part: “I’m not going to be able to help.” But before the word “but” you’ve acknowledged the other person’s request. Saying “that committee is important” recognizes the other person’s work.

Also notice in this case that there is a reason for the refusal: “I have too much work right now.” You shouldn’t give a long explanation, but reasons can definitely help soften the “no”. And specific reasons are better than general ones. For example: “I can’t commit to that because I am heading up the new design project and we are facing a big deadline.” As you can see, your reason for saying “no” is a sense of responsibility to something else. And that is not a bad thing.

Another way you can soften your refusal is to offer something else in return. That something else could be a suggestion. For example: “I’ve got a big deadline so I can’t help. But you might want to ask Todd. He’s not busy today.” You see? We can’t help out directly, but we can offer a possible alternative solution.

The something that you offer could also be another part of you or your time. Imagine a colleague at another branch asks you to pay a visit and teach him how to use some new software. You don’t have time to visit, but you could offer help in another way. Like this: “I’m too busy to come by, but I could give you a half hour of help over the phone tomorrow.”

You can see that in these situations, “no” is not the final word. You have a refusal and an alternative, which is still an attempt to help.

Remember that being firm and clear and protecting your time and integrity does not mean being rude. Someone might really need help, and you should show empathy. If you can manage all of these things in your refusal, you will earn people’s respect. Think about how this sounds: “I understand you’re under a lot of pressure Brenda. With my workload, I just can’t give your project what it needs. It wouldn’t work. But I can look over your work breakdown structure, and for ongoing help I suggest Greg. He’d be great for this.” That response does everything a good refusal should.

Well, that’s all for today. They wanted me to go on for another couple of minutes, but I said “no”. If you’d like to test yourself on what we’ve just covered, have a look at the website. There you’ll find a quiz about today’s show as well as a complete transcript.

Have a great summer and I’ll be back after the break.