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5 Ways to say No

The Management Centre

 I find it really hard to say no to colleagues’ requests – never mind my manager – and I feel like I’m drowning at times. Help!

Ah, yes – you’re not alone. One of the biggest challenges participants talk about on our management training courses is ‘I just don’t know how to say no.’

Like many people, it sounds as though you want to be a team player and so end up saying yes to every request that comes your way – whatever your own pressing priorities. Sometimes it can feel like saying no to the wrong person at the wrong time will put your position on the line. Whatever the reason you, and others like you, end up working 12-hour days to get everything done, feeling overwhelmed and stressed out. Not surprisingly work can start to suffer with missed deadlines and poor quality outputs. By trying to keep everyone happy, you lose out anyway.

That said for most people, it’s a part of the job to be interrupted. We work in collaboration with our teams and the organisation and we can’t just shut ourselves off, however much we wish we could sometimes.

What we can do, though, is to actively manage these requests. There are effective ways of saying ‘No’ that will positively gain you the respect of your colleagues. This isn’t about slacking and getting out of work that you should be doing. Rather it’s about balancing requests from other people with your own workload and achieving the best outcome.

Here at =mc as part of our Managing Multiple Priorities programme we specifically talk about five 5 ways of saying ‘No’ without it being seen as aggressive or dismissive. You can even use them with your boss – and at home.

Before deciding which ‘No’ to use, ask yourself three questions:

  • How much of my time is needed for the task and when do I need to do it by?
  • How does this weigh up with my priorities and timescales?
  • Do I have the right knowledge and expertise to help?
  • You can then select the most appropriate ‘No.’

1. Considered ‘No’: ‘I’m not able to help you now but if you come back at 3pm I can give this proper attention.’

This is about shifting the interruption to a time that works for you rather than the time the other person is choosing to interrupt you. It also allows the other person to go away and think about what it is they actually need. It might be they are able to take another course of action or find someone else with the answer. And if they really can’t find an alternative, then the way is open to them to come back – later.

2. Conditional ‘No’: ‘If you do X for me than I can do Y for you, if both need to be done today.’

A concession to doing the work but only if the other person is able to take something off you. It allows you to maintain the balance of your workload.

3. Deflected ‘No’: ‘I’m not the best person to do this. If you go to Bob he will be able to help you out.’

Sometimes you aren’t the best person to answer the question or do the task, but your apparent willingness to say ‘Yes’ (or reluctance to say ‘No’) means you’ve by default become the ‘go to’ person for any challenges. By deflecting the request you can gently nudge the other person in an alternative direction. A note of warning, though. It can be tempting to overuse this response as an easy way out to get someone out of your hair. Only use this ‘No’ if Bob – or whoever – really is the best to help.

4. Coaching ‘No: ‘I understand this is a problem. Why don’t you start by using your skills and experience to come up with two options to solve this. Come and talk to me about them.’

This works best when a particular individual is inclined to only come to you with problems rather than proposed solutions. While it might once have been tempting to try to rescue this person and tell them the answer, over time they have become dependent on you. You need to encourage this person to problem solve for themselves by using a coaching approach.

5. Priority ‘No’: ‘This is what needs to happen today. I will need to say no to one of them if I do your task.’

This is particularly useful if more senior person is asking you to do something extra that is urgent. Asking them to decide with you where their task fits in with your other priorities means you can reach a shared agreement about where your focus should be.

And finally, here are some rules for using the five ‘Nos’:

  • Always explain the reasons behind your ‘No’. People will then understand where you are coming from.
  • If you can say it in person, do. Tone is easily lost in an email and how you say ‘No’ is just as important as saying ‘No.’
  • Don’t get into the habit of using the ‘Nos’ all the time – unless you want to gain a reputation as someone who is not approachable and avoids extra responsibilities.
  • On the contrary, ensure you have a good reputation to fall back on. If you are known to be hard working, approachable etc, it can make it much easier to say ‘No’ when you need to.

What’s Next?

If you’ve found this article helpful and you would like more information, please call +44 (0)20 7978 1516 and speak to one of our experienced learning and development consultants or contact us online.

If you would like to learn more have a look at the Managing Multiple Priorities training programme. Join us for a pop-up or bring the training in-house and learn how to focus your energy to deliver results, manage heavy workloads and constant interruptions, and improve your overall work-life balance.

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Yvette Gyles

About Yvette Gyles

Yvette specialises in leadership, personal effectiveness, change and innovation. Before joining =mc, she worked in HR for several years in both the private and charity sector as an HR...