One of the obvious reasons saying no is so hard is that it is often seen as an act of aggression. It makes us look disagreeable.
You are looking forward to a quiet weekend, but your colleague requests that you help him meet a deadline by working over the weekend. All you can think of is curling up in bed and reading a book or watching a movie.You desperately want to say no.
But, of course, you say yes and work over the weekend.
Your calendar is full, and you are struggling with your current project.
Your boss wheedles you into a new project; possibly involving more or a different kind of responsibility.
What you want to do is get his help on the current one, but you end up saying yes to the new one.
Scientists are of the opinion that conflict and contradiction are not just inevitable but are required for creativity and growth. Saying no is not about disagreement. It’s about being responsive another person’s viewpoint without necessarily agreeing. As this TIME article puts it, we are likely overestimating the cost of saying no.
Saying yes when you should say no leads to your productivity taking a hit. You become unsure of your priorities. You are tired and frustrated.
We have all been in that place. And will likely remain there unless we learn the right way to say no.
Paying attention to little things in conflict situations can wean us away from the war zone. Here are 14 essentials to learning the art of saying no, whether it is to your peers, boss or customers.
Saying No to your peers
We all know the importance of truly listening, yet most of us let it’s significance float by without realizing the consequences. The cost of poor listening can be huge.
Genuinely listening to the person gives you sufficient information to process the request objectively. Also, once you have exhibited your listening skills, you are more likely to elicit a similar response from the other person making you feel heard in a classic case of mirroring behaviour.
2. Articulate the other person’s point of view
What exactly about the idea, opinion or proposal are you not in line with? Reiterating the other person’s point of view signals that you are giving it the due weight. It also eliminates the common frustration in these situations — “You are not getting my point!!!”
Invite critique for your ideas. It indicates objectivity and openness.
3. Use the intangibles well
Over 90% of communication is established through your body language. Having an open posture and direct line of sight indicate openness and eagerness, whether you are articulating a new idea or evaluating another’s proposition.
This infographic provides a few guidelines for appropriate body language at the workplace.
4. Avoid hedging language
Avoid using hedging phrases like, “I am not sure” or “ I don’t think this is right” when you have made up your mind about the matter. Limp phrases might be construed as a yes, eventually building more frustration. Make sure you’re truly saying no.
5. Do it in person
Unless your work environment is entirely remote, always make it a practice to walk over to the person’s cubicle or chat over a coffee while communicating your no. It makes it much more personal and professional at the same time.
Saying No To Your Boss
6. Work on your confidence
Raising your objections to an idea, especially if it comes from your superior at work or larger groups of people can take a toll on your confidence. Amy Cuddy, a Harvard psychologist, and author of Presence, suggests a 2- minute routine of assuming power postures before a major discussion or conference. Also, the image we present can set the self-fulfilling prophecy in motion, thus making it harder to be heard in the future as well.
“This is how self-fulfilling prophecies work: we have an expectation about who someone is and how she’s likely to behave, then we treat her in a way that is likely to elicit those behaviours, thus confirming our initial expectations… and so on.”
Using too many filler words to fill in can undermine credibility, thereby affecting your confidence. Maintain a firm and steady tone to avoid distracting people from your ideas.
7. Keep the tone civil
Assume the onus of keeping it fair, unbiased and composed. It does not help to be dismissive of ideas, even though they may seem ridiculous. At no point should it be made personal. Name-calling and personal history tagging are complete no-nos.
As with point #1, the tone we assume with the other person is very likely to be beamed back to us. Ben Dattner, the author of The Blame Game explains,
“Cultivating a diplomatic poker face is important. You need to be able to come across as professional and positive.”
8. Make the Shared Vision the hero
Make it about the shared vision. Reiterate to the other person that you understand that he has the best interests of the company in mind just as you do. Then, use this opportunity to lead them firmly to see your point of view on the matter.
One of the ways to lead this is to use the power of questions.
9. Pay attention to the predominant culture
Globalization has gathered momentum at a startling pace. The key to avoiding misunderstandings and communication holes is being sensitive to the prevailing culture of the workplace. For example, in some countries like India, deference to age is demonstrated by the use of certain titles. Similarly, the significance of hierarchical power distance between colleagues could vary widely among cultures. Knowing and using the subtle cultural connotations appropriately will help you focus on the problem at hand and become a savvy communicator across borders.
“Even when you are dealing with a culture whose social behaviours appear similar to yours, you can’t assume that they are exactly the same.”- Bridging the Culture Gap, A Practical Guide To International Business Communication.
10. Buy time
Many requests do not warrant an immediate response. Buying time to think through the matter is a good way to further the discussion. You might see the credit in the other’s arguments or come up with stronger arguments to defend your point of view, while you are ruminating. Either way, it helps to communicate better.
11. Suggest constructive alternatives
While evaluating your pro-and-con arguments, make a list of useful options.
For example, if you have made up your mind that you cannot get involved in a new project at this stage, you can offer to help by sharing material, resources, worksheets and insights from your previous projects. It will contribute to reiterate that you are willing to help, just not in the way they have asked.
12. Ask for help prioritizing
To accommodate a new request, there is a real need to relook at your priorities. Use this opportunity to re-evaluate your work priorities with your boss. This could also be the best way to make your boss see the reason behind your no.
If your no turns to a yes, Derek Sivers recommends that it be a “Hell, yes!” and not a weak yes.
“When you say no to most things, you leave room in your life to really throw yourself completely into that rare thing that makes you say “HELL YEAH!”” — Derek Sivers.
Saying No To The Customer
13. Be transparent and upfront
It might be tempting never to turn away business. Accepting out-of-scope requests from a customer, or agreeing to meet demands that are too much of a drain on your time and resources than you can afford are often detrimental to a business.
Having a firm hold on your vision for the firm is a good place to evaluate their requests and say no. The key is the way you say it. Suggest a better solution while explaining why you cannot accept it at this point. Assuring them that you will come back to them when you are ready is a good way to keep customers that won’t flame you for declining their requests.
14. Suggest an improvement over their own ideas
“A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” — . Steve Jobs
In the age of the internet, most customers have an idea of what they might need, and ask for it. Make it your job to challenge their assumptions and help them choose the very best for their business. The key is to keep their best interests at heart.
This article explains two intuitive approaches you MUST follow to genuinely help your customer.
Saying no might seem like turning down opportunities. It might seem challenging, especially in the beginning. Keeping a positive outlook and focusing on the outcomes is the key to keeping it consistent and objective. Lastly, remember that your no should serve a bigger purpose.
Make every no a harbinger for a greater yes.
This post originally appeared on the ReadThink blog.