The Art of “NO”

A co-worker sent me a link to an article where the author said it’s OK to tell your customers and clients “NO!”  The justification is clients don’t always have all the information and by saying NO, we’re actually doing them, and us, a favor.  It can save the client money, us time, and everyone frustration.  Instead of beating around the bush, just tell the client NO and move on with your day.

There were many truths to what was written.  But what this, and other articles I’ve read, lack is the art of saying NO.  It doesn’t always have to be a final answer, but the beginning of another.  If it does have to be a definitive no, there is also a certain level of tact that can be used.

The Start of a Different Conversation.  “NO” is a safe answer.  It doesn’t commit you to doing something.  When I tell my kids NO, it keeps them safe and me out of trouble with my wife.

But what if no was the start of a different conversation?  If I told my boss no and walked away, chances are they wouldn’t be too pleased.  Instead, what if I said no we can’t do that, but we could do this?  Different conversation.

When the initial answer is no, having options shows you’ve thought about the other person’s request.  You understand the ask and really considered what is and what is not possible.  The requester will respond to options better than a definitive no.  A conversation can take place about the options and then align on the solution to move forward.

When NO is the Final Answer.  I enjoy working with non-profits.  They serve a greater purpose and its members are very passionate about what they do.  I admire them greatly.

However, last week when one asked for about 10 hours of my time on a weekend to help with strategic planning, I had to say no.  I knew I didn’t have the time and trying to make it would mean giving something else up.  Since I had already committed time to my family, No had to be the final answer.

But how do you say it without hurting feelings or sounding rude?  I first thanked her for calling and truly appreciated being considered for this opportunity.  Though I respected this organization and its cause, I unfortunately couldn’t commit the time right now given other priorities.  We ended the call on a positive note and look forward to hearing of their success in the future.

Saying “No” is an art.  It takes time and practice to do it well.  Look at options before saying no and if no is the final answer, say it tactfully.

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