3 steps to saying “no” tactfully

May 28, 2021

Yesterday’s Daily Tip discussed ways to change your mindset around saying “no.” Here are three things you can do to increase the likelihood that people will receive your "no" in a positive way:

  1. Recognize their needs behind the request. For instance, you can say, "I appreciate that you trust me enough to take on this project / that you need to get this done / that you’re short on time, however..."
  2. Avoid using the word “no” or “I don’t want to…” and instead share your feelings and needs. For example, "I feel overwhelmed because I have too much on my plate right now. I need to prioritize other tasks. Maybe next time?”
  3. Find an alternative strategy that might meet both your needs. For example: “Would you be OK asking John to do it?” or "Would you be OK if I did it next week?”

The idea is to help the other person understand the need you’re filling by saying no, the thing that is keeping you from saying "yes," so they get a sense that their request is valued and respected, even if you’re not complying.

Two questions that come up in our workshops when we teach this technique:

Q: What if you are not interested in meeting the needs of the other person?

A: Easy, you can still practice #1 & #2 above, just not #3.

Q: What if they persist?

A: Then it’s time to set a boundary.


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