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Recently a colleague who reads my newsletter suggested I blog about how to say “no.”  What a terrific idea I thought, especially since it’s a challenge many of us encounter both personally and professionally. Since I blog about how to help you communicate in the business world, that’s where I’ll focus my comments.

The question is why is this one-syllable word something that creates a struggle for many of us? A few possibilities include:

a. We strive to be liked and mistakenly believe the best way to achieve this is by saying yes (vs. no).

b. We want to avoid feelings of ill-will and will do anything to steer clear of getting on someone’s bad side, which means we assume that hearing “no” will disappoint or anger a person.

c. We figure if we say “yes” it will be reciprocated when we’re in need.

d. We’re not in touch with our own goals and needs which may not align with those of others.

Whatever your particular reason is for not saying the word “no,” I encourage you to explore this vs. falling into the same patterns or habits on a regular  basis.

That brings us to solving this communication conundrum…my favorite part of my business and helping other professionals, just like you.  Here are my top 5 strategies:

1. Be more deliberate in your business interactions and take a few moments (or longer) to reflect on what has been asked of you.  Too often we respond impulsively and say “yes” far too quickly in a rush to close.

2. Be liberal in expressing appreciation to someone who has made a request of you  (e.g. give a presentation, review material, sit on a panel, serve as a mentor).  This is an instance where saying thank you goes a long way.

3. Be aware of your own priorities, goals, areas of expertise and weigh each request against this information.  Think of it like a jigsaw puzzle where each piece must fit well vs. being squeezed in unnecessarily.

4. Be sensitive to how you say “no” and recognize that it can be helpful to offer a brief explanation (although this isn’t required).  Sometimes simply saying “I appreciate your thinking of me for this engagement however my current schedule is full with prior commitments.”  Where appropriate, I have occasionally gone the extra step and offered another organization that might be a good fit for the situation, which has been very well-received.

5. Be aware that your own success is tied in to learning the interpersonal skill of saying “no.”  Like any new skill it may not come naturally at first but that will change with practice.  You’ll find that asking questions can also lend clarity and help you make your decision with confidence. In my experience, I’ve found that adding this skill to my repertoire has enhanced my reputation and reinforced my credibility both to my clients and prospects.

What’s your opinion on saying “no”?  Please let me know if you’d like to receive my assistance with this important communication skill.

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