How To Say ‘No’ With Grace and Confidence in 6 Steps (Part 1 of 2)

by | Jul 29, 2016 | Leadership

How To Say ‘No’ With Grace and Confidence in 6 Steps (Part 1 of 2)

by | Jul 29, 2016 | Leadership

The #1 most valuable professional skill I’ve learned is how to say ‘no’ with grace and confidence.

The ability to say ‘no’ to commitments has allowed me to focus on valued activities, ensured my well-being, and helped me to retain my self-respect. It’s been essential in sustaining my recovery from mental illness and building respectful relationships in the workplace.

Recently, as I sat on a panel discussing mental health with young medical students, I was gob-smacked to learn of the widespread fear of saying ‘no’ – I thought I was the only one. As it turns out, it’s common for people to not want to disappoint people. This fear puts them at risk of burning out emotionally and physically. When this happened to me, I knew that something needed to change. I needed to start letting myself disappoint people.

At first, saying ‘no’ stung – I’d wrestle with myself for hours as to whether I should change my mind. Then, slowly, I began to figure out better ways to go about saying ‘no’.

I’ve now got a script that has allowed me to say ‘no’ successfully and with confidence many times. I hope it helps you when faced with a decision, request, or opportunity that you want to say ‘no’ to.

1) Give thanks.

Thank the person for thinking of you or getting in contact with you. For example, “Thank you for getting in contact with me, it’s great to hear from you.”

2) Acknowledge the request.

Do this by putting into your own words what you think is being asked of you. For example, “It sounds like the event is shaping up and you think that I could add value to it.” Sometimes I’ll combine step 1) and 2) into one sentence: “Thank you for getting in contact with me about the possibility of being a panellist at your event”.

3) Tell them you can’t commit.

Be direct and unambiguous when saying that you cannot commit to the request/event/opportunity. You don’t have to explain your reason at all, or you can choose to preface the sentence with a very brief explanation, such as “Unfortunately, due to my current workload/to honour my existing commitments/in the interest of keeping my stress levels down, I cannot commit to being involved with your event.”

4) Think about your boundaries.

Consider whether you would be happy for this person to contact you again at a later date with a similar request should they choose to. If you are happy to be contacted in the future, say so and give them an approximate date. For example, “I would be open to being involved when I return from holidays in mid-July”. If you are not willing to be contacted in the future, do not soften your ‘no’ with unnecessary explanation – this only invites negotiation. Consider, as well, whether you could take on a smaller role to the one proposed – for example, instead of taking on a full-time mentoring position, would you be happy to chat with a mentee for 15 minutes every two weeks at a time of your convenience?

5) If there’s someone else you can think of who could fulfil the request, recommend them.

This helps the person with the original request and the person who you suggest is likely to be happy that you are promoting their services. Only offer genuine suggestions of people/organisations you think would be interested. Also, if you are acquaintances with the person you would like to recommend, consider checking in with them whether they are open to opportunities at this point in time.

6) (Genuinely) wish them the best.

Thank them again and genuinely wish them the best for their event/finding a suitable person.

When saying ‘no’, the fewer words, the better. We want the person to respect that this is our final decision and that it’s not open for negotiation. People tend to respect clear, open, and honest communication.

It’s still not habitual for me to say ‘no’ but it gets easier. In those moments when I get that sinking feeling in my stomach after saying ‘no’, I remind myself that by honouring my existing commitments, time, and health, that I’m opening myself up to more opportunities in the future that I can focus my energy on.

Interested in learning more about saying ‘no’? One resource that was invaluable in kick-starting my ‘no’ journey was the book, ‘Extreme Self-Care‘ by Cheryl Richardson – I highly recommend it!

Click here to read the follow-up Part 2 post I wrote about knowing when to say ‘No’.