Stop Saying “Yes” And Learn To Say “No”

I have a mate called Brad who used to be in charge of a team selling advertising space in a national newspaper. Over lunch one day, he told me about the many demands clients would make, often in a rude and aggressive way, in an effort to get more for their money.

Circumstances meant Brad couldn’t afford to tell these clients where to stick their advertising – he needed them to book more space the following week. But sales targets meant he also couldn’t afford to give in to their demands.

So instead he used a simple, yet very effective, trick to stay in control:

He said “No”.

“I want to get a double page spread for the same price as a single.”
“No”

“I want full colour instead of just black and white.”
“No”

“I want you to move my ad from the left page to a right hand page.”
“No”

Often his “No” was couched in extra language, such as, “I’d like to be able to do that, but No,” or, “No, that won’t be possible.”

His simple solution to a common business problem has stuck with me all these years, particularly because I remember thinking at the time, “Wow! He’s got some guts. I wish I could do the same thing.” Indeed, you might be thinking the same.

But that’s rubbish isn’t it?

We can all say “No” and so long as we do it courteously, nothing bad should come of it.

I’ve found this out for myself, after making a concerted effort to avoid saying “Yes” when I should be saying “No”.

A big help was a blog post I read entitled 7 Ways To Say No by Celestine Chua. In fact, so useful was this list I included it in Personal Branding For Brits and will often refer to a copy when I’m trying to work out how to politely give someone the brush off.

Positive refusal

Recently though, my ability to say “No” had an even bigger boost when I read a blog by Caroline Webb about ‘the positive no’ – a way of delivering a negative response in a positive way. She’s the author of How To Have A Good Day and with her agreement, I’m including part of that post here, listing the four steps she recommends taking the next time you need to let someone down gently:

1. Start with warmth

First, acknowledge and show appreciation for the person’s request. (It’s easy to forget to do this when we’re focused on our own discomfort about disappointing someone.)

2. Your “yes”

Instead of starting with “I’m sorry…,” begin by enthusiastically highlighting whatever your positive priority is right now and why it’s interesting, important, or meaningful to you. If possible, pick out a reason that will also resonate with the person you’re talking to.

3. Your “no”

Explain that this means, with regret, that you can’t do the thing they’ve asked you to do. This is where you say “sorry”.

4. End with warmth

Perhaps there’s a suggestion or offer you can make without detracting from your real priorities, such as an introduction to other people who could help. At the very least, you can offer some warm wishes for success in their project.

To see those steps in action, visit the original blog and read the example Caroline uses of a client who told her “No” in a positive way. Before you do though, take a moment to bookmark this post, or save it somewhere you’ll easily find it again, so you too can begin to say “No” when you should be saying “No”.

What tips have you picked up for saying “No” instead of “Yes”? Or are you someone who agrees to everything then kicks yourself later? I’d love it if you’d share your thoughts with a comment below. Thank you!

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