1. The Dramatic "No."
This one's a favorite, learned from a playwright in New York City who used it with actors asking for roles in his shows. It works best with people who seem to make endless demands of you, with great persistence:
"Gosh, I really wish I could, but it's just . . ." (count silently to four)
. . . . "impossible." (shake your head, slowly).
That usually does it, especially if you say nothing else. If, however, they ask, "Why?", then do this:
(Open your mouth as if starting to speak, then take a breath, and say,)
"Well, it's . . . .
(count silently to 4, look down, then say, almost under your breath - )
. . . . "just impossible. I wish I could say 'yes,' but I simply cannot."
(Look up at the person at the very end and smile wanly.)
Why does this work? The requestor has nothing to argue with. You haven't lied. And they will fill in the blank with whatever awful thing happened to them that they'd have difficulty talking about, too.
Remember, you don't need to give a reason why you're saying "no." The truth is, it usually isn't their business. Often, they won't hear anything after "no" anyway. We're often just trying to justify our decision to ourselves!
2. If you're asked to do something that goes against your Values or priorities:
Say "No" quickly. If you hesitate, even for a moment, the person making the request will believe there is a chance you will change your mind. Say "No" firmly. Just "No." No reasons.
- Make a sincere comment about your commitment to the results you are focused on achieving. E.g., "I must commit all my time to __________. It's what is most important to me right now."
- Reaffirm your commitment to the person: "I am saying "No" to your request, and I want you to know how much I value you as a colleague."
- If you have time, spend a few minutes brainstorming other options with the person about how to get his/her need taken care of.
3. If you don't have the time now but might want to say 'yes' at some other time:
Say something like, "I'd love to help you with this, but I just don't have the time. Please let me know next time this comes up, and maybe our schedules will be a better match then. . . and I'd like that."
Or, say "I would like to help but I'm already overcommitted. How else might I support you?"
Or, "Sorry, I'm unable to do that."
Or, "I'll have to say no to that, but might I suggest __________?"
In the last case, you've given the person a gift of your creativity, as you suggest another way for them to get their request handled.
4. When you're asked to do something "for free" that you usually charge $ for doing:
You may be one of those people who get asked to speak, to contribute your consulting or services, for free. Sometimes that may work for you. When it doesn't, say something like, this:
"I do pro bono work on a limited basis - and that time has already been
committed for this year. Would you like to be put on the waiting list for several
years from now? I can do that."
Most people don't plan that far in advance. That means that they're the ones who have to say "No" to your suggestion! (After all, turnabout is fair play!)
5. When someone continues to ask you repeatedly for free advice:
After an ongoing fee-paying relationship is over, you're essentially giving away your services. If you don't want to continue that, we suggest you respond something like this:
"I feel awkward helping you at this point because I feel that I'm being unfair to my
paying clients. Let's put together a list of things I can really help you with and
see how we can work together."
That usually will end the "for free" requests once and for all.
Do you have a great way you've learned to say A Graceful "No?" We'd love to hear about it. Write to us at Diane@HeartDance.com and share your successes!
Thanks to our colleagues David Burnet, Vickie Sullivan, Mary Westheimer, Bob Hill, and Madelyn Griffith-Haney for contributing their "graceful no's".
E-Mail us with questions or suggestions.
Sherry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Diane and Sherry's book, Discovering Your Best Self Through the Art of Coaching, can be ordered at http://www.sherrylowry.com/book.htm.
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