Saying ‘no’ is hard. In fact, we’ve previously dedicated an entire article to why you might have trouble saying ‘no’. Maybe you want to show a willingness to help, don’t want to offend or are scared of how it might look. There are many reasons why it’s tough to reject or refuse a request, but it’s important to be able to do it.
Saying ‘no’ is an underrated, and often underdeveloped skill. At work, you might already be overworked and need to tell your manager you can’t take anything else on, or a colleague might ask for something you need to refuse. It’s not always nice to say ‘no’, and you might feel guilty, but if you don’t, you’ll lose all control of your time and workload. Especially during more stressful times, it’s important to set realistic expectations on yourself.
Of course, there are some things you can’t easily say ‘no’ to – instructions from bosses, for example. But, for all the things that want to take time you don’t have, or when you don’t have the ability or (even just the inclination) to say ‘yes’, it’s important to be able to be assertive and stand up for yourself by saying ‘no’. In this article, we’re going to look at four different methods that can help you be more assertive and say ‘no’.
1. Pre-empting the request
You’re work hard, in deep focus with deadlines coming up fast. In the office, you look up from your computer and see your colleague walking towards you, or working from home you get an unexpected Zoom call or perhaps you see their number flash up on your phone as it rings. You know they only talk to you when they need something, so what do you do?
Often, the easiest way to say ‘no’ to something, is to not let it get asked in the first place. By pre-empting their request, you can jump in first. Saying something like, “I hope you’re not here to ask for anything,” or “This is a bad time to talk, I’m really busy,” lets them know you’re not available. You won’t have to explicitly say ‘no,’ because they never actually asked you anything.
2. Stall for time
Another classic technique for saying ‘no’ without having to say the word is to avoid giving your reply straight away. When someone asks you to do something, try using a phrase like, “I can’t do it right now,” or “I’m in the middle of another job.” This gives you time to think of how to explain why you can’t do what they’re asking.
Often, people’s first reaction is to say ‘yes’ when they’re asked for something. This is particularly troublesome when you’re blindsided with a question or request you weren’t expecting. By giving yourself some breathing room, you can decide whether it’s actually something you want to agree to.
3. Deflect it
Just because something needs doing, doesn’t always mean you have to be the one to do it. If you get asked for something urgent, but you can’t do it straight away, ask if they can get someone else to do it. Or, explain why you’re not the right person to help.
If you want to sound kinder, you could tell them that you’re not able to help them this time, but they could try asking next time. This means you won’t sound like you don’t want to help at all, but circumstances don’t allow it this particular time. You can also offer constructive suggestions, like who else to ask or how they could do it themselves. This shows a recognition of their situation, and a willingness to help, while affirming that you aren’t going to be the one to do what they’re asking.
Even if you want to say ‘yes’, you can’t necessarily fulfil the request right there and then. Unless something is urgent, you can try negotiating a compromise that works for both of you. For example, “I can’t do it now, but I have some time tomorrow afternoon.”
Once again, this shows you’re willing to be helpful and do what they’re asking, but lets you stand your ground and do it on your terms. It’s important to keep track of your time and to know when you can or can’t be interrupted, and this gives you control back – especially for things you maybe not be able to refuse outright.
For more tips and advice on boosting your Personal Effectiveness, make sure you have a look at our virtual and face-to-face learning solutions.