5 Ways to Say NO! …Nicely

Are you talking to me?Following my own advice about providing specific ideas for getting things done, I want to follow up my newsletter from last week with 5 ways to say no in a manner that should help you stay in the good graces of the requester.

Some people can say no so graciously that I sometimes feel honored that I have been turned down. It’s one of the reasons I have read Pride and Prejudice many times, and still I get flustered easily when I cannot be of service to someone.  I have to practice saying no.

I also have to remind myself that over-committing out of guilt or other misguided reasons hurts both me and the other party. Plus it does not serve to build long term relationships.  Guilt is usually a program in our mind, not a true emotion. Knowing this has helped me to move more quickly through feeling badly about saying no.

Here are 5 specific phrases to use as a starting point for saying no graciously:

  1. The Mayo Clinic says to be sure to be clear that we are saying no, not maybe later. “I must say no to your request. My schedule is full and I cannot take on any more projects.” This frees both parties to move ahead.
  2. Using humor can help.  When being requested to spend time and energy for a non-profit organization, if I have to decline I say, “I am sorry, my non-profit dance card is full.”  This also lets them know that I am interested in contributing to the greater good.KC_OverTheHump_Masthead 230x200
  3. Be sure to respect the request.  In Pride and Prejudice when Elizabeth refuses Mr. Collins’ offer of marriage in Pride and Prejudice, she compliments him in saying that his proposal is an honor, and still says no, “Accept my thanks for the compliment you are paying me. I am very sensible of the honour of your proposals, but it is impossible for me to do otherwise than to decline them.”
    • A more modern way to phrase this might be, “I appreciate your bringing this to me, and am honored that you think I would be good at this work.  However, I don’t have time to do this justice and know your project will be more successful with someone who could.”
  4. Refer the requester to another source, especially if the other person is more qualified. “I appreciate your considering me, but this is not an area that I specialize in.  I think that Steve is more qualified for this work.  If you do not know him, I am happy to introduce you.”
  5. If appropriate, ask the requester to help me reassign my priorities, or even take something off my plate in return.  “That sounds like interesting work, but I have these other projects that I am already committed to. Would you be willing to help me re-work the schedule with Steve, or even take on Project B, so I can work  on your Project A?”

As with most communication, respect is more important than agreement.  This is one case where we can have our cake and eat it too by not taking on requests we do not want and honoring the requester.

What specific phrases have you found successful in communicating well in these situations? Please share by commenting below!

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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