How To Say No With Class And Power

There’s one way of saying No that’s easy. Say Yes to something that you don’t want to do.

In that moment, you have just said No to all the things you could have done instead.

Every Yes brings with it a thousand Noes. That’s opportunity cost.

There are two ways you can deal with that.

One is to accept that you now don’t have time for the things you most want.

The other is to try to do everything. Soon you feel overwhelmed and miserable.

Neither is a good option.

Learning how to say no is a liberated, empowered path.

No Is Superficial

The word No is a superficial thing. It doesn’t give much information. Most of all, it doesn’t tell us what is getting in the way of Yes.

Often, we make up an excuse to justify our No.

We get an invite and we say No – “because, well, the car is unreliable at the moment so I’d best not risk it.”

The problem with saying No this way is that people take you at face value.

So they hear “hmmm, they want to do this, but have a problem with their car.”

Then they “fix” your problem.

“Don’t worry!! I’ll pick you up!”

What No REALLY Means

People like to help people. You like it. I like it. We love to contribute to the well being of others.

So why would we ever say No?

Simple. There is a need of our own that is getting in the way of Yes.

A friend asks us to spend the day with them. Yet we want to say No because we feel frazzled. We have a need for solitude.

A colleague asks us to go on a business trip. Yet we want to say No because we would like some time with our family. We have a need for connection.

When a person says No, they are really expressing a need. But they are being unclear by not saying the need.

So Say The Need

To say no effectively, don’t say no. Say the need. It’s honest and it’s clear.

It’s also hard to take it personal.

After all, it’s not that I don’t want to help you. It’s that I have this need in me.

Here’s how to do it.

1. Echo the person’s request so they know you’ve understood what they have asked for.

2. Tell them how you’re feeling.

3. Tell them the need you’re wanting to meet instead.

4. Make a suggestion of how to meet their needs in a different way.

Some examples

Example 1

A colleague asks you to go with them to a conference.

Your response:

“I’m hearing that you’d like me to go to this conference with you. I’m feeling exhausted right now, and I need some rest. Would you be willing to find someone else to go with you?”

Example 2

A friend asks you to spend the day with them.

Your response:

“I’m hearing that you’d like me to spend the day with you today. I feel so appreciative that you’d like my company, yet I’m also feeling frazzled after a tough week. I need some rest and solitude today. Would you be willing to get together another time instead?”

Example 3

A colleague asks you to go on a business trip.

“I’m hearing that you’d like me to come with you on this business trip. I’m feeling disconnected at the moment and need some closeness with my family. Would you be willing to find someone else to go with you?”

I’ve kept the language quite rigid here so you can easily see the four steps I mentioned. You can say it how you’d usually talk, so long as you’re hitting those four steps.

Why This Works

This way of saying No without saying No works for several reasons.

It is connecting. You share yourself fully and openly with the other person.

It is hard for them to feel rejected. You haven’t said no to them. You have been clear that you are saying yes to a need inside you.

It is full of information. “No” tells the other person little. Saying the need helps others understand what is at stake for you.

You discover yourself. In order to share the need behind your No, you must first look inside you. You’ll become more in touch with what you need from life. Knowing what you need makes it more likely that you’ll get it.

It is honest. There is no phoney problem for others to solve. You stand in your full power.

Of course, there may be a way for you to meet your needs AND theirs. Perhaps the other person will suggest it. Then you get the best of all worlds.

A Closing Story

Recently, I asked a close friend of mine to my home for a gathering.

He could have invented a fake excuse. But he didn’t.

He said “I feel uncomfortable socialising at parties. I prefer meeting one to one. Can we just keep meeting like this instead?”

He didn’t say no. He said much more than that. He connected with me. I felt closer to him as a result.

And he doesn’t have to force himself to come to my damn party.

Alun Parry is Director of The Liverpool Psychotherapy Practice

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