We’ve been raised to be polite, listen and want to help people, but somewhere along the way we may have failed to learn how to set our own boundaries. There wasn’t much talk about that when I was growing up. As a result, I say ‘yes’ too often and I’m scared to pick up my home phone for fear that there’ll be a sales person on the other way and I’ll end up listening to all they have to say before I can get off the line.
In fact, it was a sales conversation that left me shaken and made me look for ways to say ‘no’ that were respectful, but also let me stay true to myself. It was someone I had bought an educational program from and she called to offer me the next step. Her first program was ok and gave me solid knowledge, but it was also somewhat boring and not the best match for my learning style. I appreciated this person’s efforts and I didn’t want to upset her, but I wasn’t going to buy anything else from her.
What did I do? Instead of being straightforward and honest, I started coming up with excuses, which she saw as an opportunity to coach me through resistance. Not a great feeling and what a waste of time!
What could I have done better? What could you do better next time you’re asked to do something you don’t want to do?
1. Be direct
‘No, I can’t’ or ‘No, I won’t be taking your next program’. Sometimes, it will be enough. Other times (in my case above), the person you’re talking to may ask you why. Starting the conversation that way will at least give you more time to gather your thoughts and come up with thoughtful and honest response.
2. Begin with gratitude
‘Thank you for trusting me with this, but I won’t be able to help’, ‘I’m honoured, but I can’t’ or ‘Thank you for inviting me, but I won’t be able to make it’. It’s often our perception that we’ll hurt people’s feelings by saying ‘no’. By expressing gratitude we acknowledge that they’ve been brave or considerate enough to ask us and honour their feelings without having to accept their request.
3. Be truthful
It’ll make you feel better and it will make your conversation more productive if you give your true reasons for saying ‘no’. For example, in my case I could have said exactly what I wrote above if I’d given myself a few seconds to think about it, ‘You’ve created a great program, but it’s not a perfect fit for me’. Other phrases you could use are ‘I have other priorities at the moment’, ‘I can’t fit it into my schedule’ or ‘I have already committed to something else’.
4. Offer alternatives
If you don’t want to say ‘yes’, but you can offer an alternative solutions or you’re willing to commit to something else (that will usually require less effort), you can say something like ‘I’m not the best person to help you, but you can try this’ or ‘I won’t be able to do that, but I can do this instead’.
5. Delay your response
‘I can’t give you an answer right now, can I get back to you?’ I usually dislike this option, because the request stays on your mind and you still need to deal with it, but it’s better than agreeing to something just because you can’t think of anything else to say in the moment. Take your time, choose the best response and re-connect with the person when you’re better prepared.