Three words to say “No”

I was recently a guest on the Sales for Nerds podcast with Reuben Swartz. And as he shared in his show notes, two newsletter ideas came from out of our conversation. The first was about what to do when you want to say NO to a request.

We all need to have boundaries and clarity on what we want to say yes and no to. But the words “no” and “yes” should never be one word answers, especially when a commitment comes attached to it or if a “No” could risk the relationship. Too many “yesses” can lead to way too much on your plate, many of which are not a good use of your time or help achieve your goals. But saying no is so hard!

If you’re someone who tends to say a “yes” quickly, easily, and often, you may find yourself over-committing, here are some tips on how to set boundaries with your answers.

  1. Don’t answer right away. We tend to want to give a quick answer – don’t. Give your brain time to evaluate the request and determine the best answer for you. Buy yourself some time with a stall tactic such as, “Let me look into that first and I’ll let you know,” or “Let me see if that’s possible.” If you want to answer with an initial “Yes,” you can use phrases like “Yes if…”, “Yes, when…”, “Yes, after…” You can also buy yourself some time without committing by asking more questions about the request. This will give you the space to think about it first before giving a final answer.
  2. Offer an alternative. If the request is one that you are clear is one you want to say no to, then you have to overcome your discomfort with that response. One way is to offer an alternative. Determine how else you could be of assistance. For example, you could ask, “what else would be helpful as that is not something I have the capacity for at this time?” or Try “If I’m not able to, what else would be helpful to you?” Present it like “I won’t be able to, but here’s what I can do…” A “No, but…” response makes the no a lot easier and shows you still value the relationship.
  3. Collaborate. When you have clear boundaries and get comfortable saying no, you can also explain how they can get to a yes response down the road. It may just be a matter of timing. It may be they need to figure out what doesn’t fit with your decision criteria. For example, when asked to do a pro bono talk, I require a certain size of the audience. So getting to yes would be a suggestion about partnering with another organization that is also interested in the topic. Collaborate with them on how to move from a “no” to a “yes.”

With these in mind, I hope you’ll be able to establish better boundaries for yourself. Remember mindset # 7 is a generous spirit and that generosity applies to you as well!

Be sure to listen to my whole conversation with Reuben for even more insight!

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