Learning to Say “No”

One of the most difficult things to do is to say “no” to others. We want to be positive and affirming. We want to be supportive. We also don’t want to be seen as difficult, or burn bridges because of it.  But we also want to accomplish the work we have scheduled and planned around. Often it is the lack of planning on the part of others that creates an emergency requiring us to stop and take care of other matters. Therefore, we should judiciously turn down a request under the right circumstances. And what are some those circumstances for saying “no”?

  • When the work can be done later without having as great an impact.
  • When the work is not seen as a greater priority to the larger organizational goals.
  • When you are simply incapable of doing the requested task.
  • Anything that jeopardizes the safety or wellbeing of others, or puts us in an unethical position.

In saying “no”, consider the following suggestions:

  • Be firm but not defensive. Do not become emotional or overbearing.
  • Always explain why. Provide them context. Explain the challenges and consequences behind saying “yes”.
  • Provide alternative solutions for accomplishing the work. That might involve using others, or substituting one deadline for another.

Don’t just say “no”. Say “I’d love to do this, but…” or say “Let me think about how we can make that work and get back to you” or “I would like to say yes, but here are my challenges…”

When it comes to your own experience:

  • Have you had the experience of saying “no” to something? How did it make you feel?
  • When is a good time in our work to say “no”? “When is it a good time to say, “Yes”?
  • How do we create a culture of not creating emergencies for others, when planning could be better carried out on our part?

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