Communication

How To Use "No" Effectively

Photo by mslavick under CC BY 2.0 license

I was going to title this article The Power of No, and then I found out it’s a book. And it appears to be written on the subject I’m here to discuss.

The word no, or really the meaning behind the word, has a lot of power, as long as you use it and react to it correctly. Let’s look at using no and reacting to no, and how both situations can lead to happiness and confidence.

Saying Yes

Let’s begin this post on saying no by discussing saying yes. Or, more importantly, when saying yes can be detrimental.

In working for a client services agency, I’ve seen and heard my fair share of ridiculous requests. I look at these situations from the client’s perspective and I totally get it. Why wouldn’t you ask for everything and see if you can just get it? It works all over the place. When you get your next bill from your doctor, call the office and ask if you can have a discount if you pay in cash right now. I’m serious. I bet you get one.

Of course, you can see how if you continue to say yes to what becomes the equivalent of free work, your going to run yourself right out of business. And yes, this opens up a can of worms, and we could spend all day exploring how sometimes you have to say yes to smooth over a rough patch in your relationship. I don’t care much for that conversation, so guess what? No, I’m not going to talk about it.

Anyways, I see it a lot. At work. At home. With friends. With family. People say yes and then they either can’t deliver or they are completely miserable during the delivery process, of whatever that may consist.

That’s why we have to learn to say no. And now we need to figure out how and when to say it.

How To Say No

I find the word no to be powerful on its own. It’s simple, precise, and direct. And because of that, it can also be viewed as cold or mean.

When you need to be firm, stop dancing around the issue. Say no. Literally, say, “No.”

The problem is if you literally use no too much, you start to come off as a dick. When you can get your point across by implying you mean no, then you can be a little more savvy about it.

I’ve also found that no matter how you say no, giving context to why you are saying no is important. Even if you say no, it’s good to follow it with because ….

When To Say No

I’m all about the purpose behind any action you take. Finding purpose behind an action leads clarity of the action itself.

If you’re going to say no to someone, you need to be the first one to understand why. The whole think before you speak adage is relevant here. Verify your purpose before you say no.

Let’s say your boss asks you to send them a report by the end of the day. What should you do? Here are a few examples:

  • If your boss is reading the report in preparation for a big meeting tomorrow, send the report.
  • If you know your boss won’t read the report until tomorrow, don’t say no, but tell them you’ll have the report by 10 tomorrow.
  • If your boss never reads the reports, ask them why you are running the reports in the first place. If it’s a formality, maybe you shouldn’t even be doing it.

You can take the same approach at home, too. Just pay very close attention to the purpose, because it’s all about the purpose. Let’s say your spouse asks you to empty the dishwasher tonight. Does it have to be tonight? Why? Or, is it even worth creating the argument over (should you just do it because it only takes five minutes?).

Never use no without a purpose. And avoid making that purpose something stupid like to win an argument or to stand up for yourself. It’s important to understand you don’t say no to stay up for yourself. You stand up for yourself by saying no for some other, important reason.

When No Doesn’t Work

I say a version of no frequently. And, even more frequently, I ask why. I’m sure I occasionally sound like a child, but it’s effective.

Sometimes I concede to no rebuttals, and I’d do it for one of two reasons.

First, while I may feel the situation at hand warrants a no response, if it is rebutted, it may be more worthwhile to back down for the sake of keeping a human relationship in good standing. Maintaining a health human relationship (remember the don’t be a dick thing?) is far superior to winning an argument.

Second, factors outside a human relationship may be at play. If it’s your boss, I still suggest you push them when you can, but you don’t want to lose your job over a dispute. Or if it’s a client disputing a charge, you don’t want to bring a lawsuit upon yourself. There are all sorts of other factors at play. It takes weighing these to help you decide if it’s okay to back down once you’ve begun the process of saying no.

In contrast to this, sometimes you should hold your ground. You do not want to be the person who starts to say no and then never actually gets what they wanted. Whether it’s your boss, your insurance agent, or your spouse, you need to earn the desired result from an argument every so often.

There are tricky situations here. Again, I wouldn’t recommend ever letting a dispute at your office become so large that you get fired. At the same time, if your boss never lets you win an argument, then maybe you should find somewhere else to work.

By the way, I say let you win because often one of the arguers holds status over the other. In those case, it really does take the arguer demonstrating humility and listening to what you’re saying.

What No Can Do For You

If you learn to say no effectively, you’re bound to be a happier person. I don’t even have to give you an example. Just think of your own life. Think of a time when you said yes when you could have said no, and how unhappy you were with the result.

I’ve even found that some people nearly fantasize about saying no. I’ve come to tell you it’s honestly not that big of a deal. Just do it. I don’t mean be a little firmer, I mean actually try saying no. It will be terrifying, but I think you’ll be astounded by the reaction you elicit from the person to whom you are speaking.

And with the same vigor you use to say no so powerfully, say yes occasionally. Act excited to do something for someone else when doing that thing is mutually beneficial.

How To React To No

It’s great to be all powerful and everything, but what happens when someone says no to you? More importantly, what do you do if you are in the position of power (where you could simply overrule the no)?

It’s simple. Just listen. If they tell you why, great! If not, ask why.

Once you know why that person said no to you, evaluate that why. Does it make logical sense? If it happens in your workplace, does it make business sense?

If it makes sense, learn any additional information you may need, then say okay and move on.

On the other hand, if the why has no value (in your mind), fight back. Again, do this diplomatically. Be firm when you need to be firm, and lay back and talk it through when the situation calls for it.

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The Polymath Lab will be closing its doors in 2017. Many articles here will be moved to Sean's Medium account, which is the space in which he is currently writing.