2 Simple Ways to (Gracefully) Say ‘No’

Woman commanding a room


Ramona Shaw
Ramona Shaw
'No' is a simple, little word that can make all the difference. We don't give it the weight it's worth. Most people don't realize that saying 'yes' or 'no' is always a trade-off.  For example, saying yes to a long workday means saying no to dinner with your family. Yeah, you just made a trade, even though you thought you were giving the 'easy' answer.  
Once you realize that every yes includes a no — potentially to something greater and more important — it becomes much easier to make those tough calls on when to say 'no.' It can be tough to do, but I’ve been using a few simple strategies for a few years now. I'm always surprised by how well people react to my responses. It’s been making the little word so much easier to use. I hope these two tricks will be similarly powerful to you. 

1. Let your calendar say no for you.

Block time on your calendar for your desires and activities, and book your greatest priorities first. That way, when someone makes a request for your time, you can simply say that you already have another commitment. And you do. It's clearly on the calendar. Everyone understands that.

2. Adopt a yes-no-yes strategy for responding to requests. 

Working out your strategy for saying no in advance will make it so much easier to follow through in the moment. If you’re like me, it’s easy to succumb to pressure if you haven’t predetermined how you’ll respond. I use a concept called the “positive no”, or a yes-no-yes strategy.
The positive no actually begins with yes, saying yes to yourself and protecting what is important to you, while affirming the other person who made the request. Don’t make them feel ashamed for having asked. Then,  you move from a yes to a no, and it continues with a matter-of-fact no that sets clear boundaries. This conversation ends with a yes that affirms the relationship and offers another solution to the person’s request. 
Sounds complicated? Let me give you an example to show you how simple this strategy makes saying no. Say someone asks if I’m interested in joining a mastermind group. In that case, my response could look something like this:
  • Yes: “Congratulations. It looks like you’ve built an amazing mastermind group. I’m impressed with the group you’ve built!”
  • No: “Unfortunately, due to my existing group commitments, I’m not able to participate in a new mastermind and to give it the attention it deserves. Therefore, I must decline.”
  • Yes: "However, if you find someone within my network on LinkedIn you’d like to reach out to, I’m happy to make an introduction”
Sounds pretty nice, right? People typically respond very positively, as everyone understands that life is busy and we all have to set priorities.
Now, you know how to say 'no.' If you have a friend who seems a tad too busy and should hear this, please forward it on. Sometimes it’s an outside perspective or even just one sentence that can initiate change.

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Ramona Shaw is a leadership coach and trainer helping new managers become the boss people love to work for. She believes that professional success needs to co-exist with success in all other areas of life to create lasting high performance and happiness. Ramona helps new leaders strengthen their leadership habits, avoid the common pitfalls of management, give effective feedback, and take charge of their day so they can effectively lead their teams, reduce stress, and, ultimately, make a bigger impact in this world.  Book a free call to gain clarity and create a clear action plan to become the best leader you can be.