Newsletter: How to Say NO

Saying no is a critical business skill. But an effort to avoid uncomfortable moments or disappointing others can lead us to say yes to too many things. This calls for a plan, so today we bring you Shari Harley to share ways to say no and still sound like a responsible, easy-to-work-with, accommodating professional. 


Four Steps When You Get a Request


  1. Thank the person for asking. “Thank you for asking me.”  Saying “thank you” acknowledges the other person and buys you time to think about the request.
  2. Say you need some time to think about the request. Ask, “Can I have some time to think about it? I’ll get back to you by Friday.” You don’t need to reply in the moment. We often regret things we agree to without thinking through the request.
  3. Consider what you really want and are willing to do. It’s much worse to over-commit and under-deliver than to simply say no or renegotiate requests.
  4. Get back to the person in a timely way (when you said you would) and tell him or her what you’re willing to do.




Three Techniques to Say NO


How to Say No Option One: Simply say no.

Example: “I really appreciate you asking me to write the proposal for the RFP. I’m not able to do that. May I recommend someone else who has the expertise and will do a great job?” Don’t give a bunch of reasons for saying no. People are not interested in why we can or can’t do something. They just want to know if we will do it.


How to Say No Option Two: Agree — and negotiate the time frame.

Example: “I’d be happy to do that. I can’t do it before the last week of the month. Would that work for you?” If the answer is no, negotiate further. Ask, “When do you really need it? I can certainly do pieces by then, but not the whole thing. Given that I can’t meet your timeline, who else can work on this in tandem or instead of me?”


How to Say No Option Three: Say no to the request — and say what you can do.

Example: “I can’t do ___. But I can do ___. How would that work?”


A review of how to say no:

  1. Acknowledge the request by getting back to the requestor within 24 hours. 
  2. Give yourself time to think about and respond to requests.
  3. Negotiate requests to your and the requestor’s satisfaction.
  4. Agree on what you can and are willing to do.
  5. Keep your commitments.


Saying no is always hard. But it’s always better to say no than to ignore requests, or to say yes and do nothing.


Shari Harley is a corporate communications expert and author of How to Say Anything to Anyone.


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