Say “No” with Respect

11 Steps to Softening the “No”

Say No with Respect

My phone rings and I frown. “Not him!” Does this ever happen to you? True story, this just happened to me. I couldn’t figure out why I was feeling the way that I was. I like the caller, we get along very well and have a lot of similar interests, but for some reason, I felt an urge to not pick up the phone. How do you say “no” with respect?

In retrospect, it wasn’t him, it was his requests. Every time we talk he has something he “needs” my help on. And because I like and respect him, I have a hard time (ok impossible time) saying “no”; everything from relationship advice and moving furniture to last minute rides and finishing projects at work.

Boundaries are tricky aren’t they?

Even when you determine that saying “no” is the right decision, it still requires actually saying “no”. How do we make saying “no” a little bit easier?

Say No with Respect

11 steps to softening the “no”:

  1. Get to know your “yes”- Before you can get really good at declining offers you need to understand what you want to say “yes” to. What are the things in your life that take priority and then say “yes” to those first. Otherwise you may end up saying “no” them by default.
  2. Practice- The first time you say “no” you may find it difficult, but as you work on it and gain more experience it will become easier. Start with small inconsequential requests and move on to larger requests as you develop.
  3. Listen to the request fully and respectfully- Give the person making the request the opportunity to fully articulate the need.
  4. Pause before responding to any request- Take a few moments to think about what is being asked and evaluate it against your other commitments and responsibilities. Determine if it is a “should” or a “could”. I have a friend who never agrees to anything immediately when asked. Her response is always “let me check on a few things and get back to you”. This gives her the opportunity to fully vet each request and when she does accept a request she is fully committed.
  5. Simply say “no” (or as simply as possible)- When you determine that you cannot accept a request respond with a clear decline. Do not try to soften the response by being vague or cryptic. Either you can or you cannot do what is requested.
  6. Recognize your time is your time and it is valuable- Each request is taking something from you, your time, and that has value to it. Know your priorities and what you can realistically accept.
  7. When appropriate give a brief reason for declining- It is important to be honest and when appropriate you can share why you are unable to accept the request. People will respect your directness.
  8. But don’t feel obligated to explain- You are in control of your life and your reasons for declining are your own. You do not need to justify or be confrontational when you decline.
  9. Script it out- When you know a specific unrealistic request is coming you can prepare by writing out a response ahead of time. Or you can respond to a request through email or text which will give you a chance to fine tune and wordsmith your response.
  10. Have alternatives- A great way to decline a request is to couple that “no” with alternative options. Maybe you cannot help but could Sally?
  11. Finally, stay firm- Once you have made a decision stand your ground and stay committed. A good decision made after deliberation shouldn’t be changed in the heat of the moment.

Whatever steps you choose and use know that you are making a decision for yourself to prioritize what is important to you. Nobody has control or power over that. Say “no”…firmly, frequently and with respect.

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Podcaster | Speaker | Leadership Mentor

Jake Carlson is a popular speaker, accountability partner, and host of the Modern Leadership podcast. Jake built his business while traveling with his family around the world. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn. Read more about him here.