5 simple and effective ways to say NO without being rude

Nov 18, 2015 by Brendan Jack

Most people I choose to work with are team players who take pride in their work, who go the extra mile. But sometimes you just can’t, your schedule won’t allow, it’s not a good use of your time, or someone is leeching their way into your space to take advantage of your reliability. Time to de-leech yourself. ‘No’ is a powerful word that should be respected and used correctly.

Gently does it

A light touch always helps. Most people want to avoid confrontation, so tact is essential.

Sympathy works. “I wish I could, but I’m swamped at the moment.” Reasonable people will understand. If you’re trying to say no to someone like Joe Pesci in Goodfellas, then you have bigger problems.

Eye contact

Body language is always important – never say something that can be taken as negative with your back turned. Do it gently and look them in the eye. Use a mantra of ‘polite honesty’.

Excuses and lies can return to bite you – don’t go into too much detail when saying no. It’s your decision, they don’t need to know your diary details, whether they’re real or not.

Consider using an icebreaker to break any tension or to divert attention.

Do it all guilt-free. You only have so much time available. Everyone, including you, should be respectful of time.

A gentle deferral

Sometimes you might want to say yes, but can’t due to time constraints.

Often people ask things of us on the spur of the moment but are not really serious, they’re just tire kicking. Your response, “Please call me next week, I’m running around like a mad person this week.” There’s a good chance you won’t hear back from them. Playing for time can help.

If they won’t take no for an answer, then don’t take their calls for a day, they’ll find someone else to help them out. If they persist, run away from them when they approach you.

Pushy people can be relentless. Be prepared to stick to your first decision. Don’t go drinking with them for a while, they’ll use your lowered defenses against you. Before you know it, you’ll be on a plane to Nigeria with a hangover, to sort out a client problem they don’t want to take care of.

Defer to others who might be available. “You should speak to XYZ, they’re a genius at this sort of thing.”

Let me think about it

Sometimes we get asked things that put us under too much pressure and require careful thought. Nothing wrong with asking someone to give time before making a yes/no decision. However, if you have no intention of saying yes, then don’t humour them – rather give them the bad news.

If you promise to get back to someone, then say what you mean, and mean what you say. If it’s important to them, you can always tell them to call you in a week and follow up – but don’t then avoid them and play games.

Other tactics

Send them an invoice for 50% upfront ‘helping fee’ – or propose it jokingly. If they pay it, you’re good to go. You probably can’t do this with your boss, although it’s worth a try.

Barter. Agree to something if you can get something useful in return. Perhaps they can update your website or take you to lunch. Like Hannibal Lecter said, “Quid pro quo, Clarice.”

Summing up

Always act with respect, never dismiss people with the wave of a hand.

Saying no isn’t always easy, but compassion and sympathy go a long way to help deliver that short word. Perhaps try an icebreaker to soften the blow.

You don’t have to please everybody. You’re no good to anyone when you’re busy being unhappy. Finally, when you’re young, it’s not a bad thing to say yes to more requests for the experience. When you get older, however, saying no more often will keep you sane.

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