Try Mind Tools for 7 days FREE Start Trial
Gain essential management and leadership skills
Busy schedule? No problem. Learn anytime, anywhere.
Subscribe to unlimited access to meticulously researched, evidence-based resources.
Join today!
Join Mind Tools

Sign-up to our newsletter

Subscribing to the Mind Tools newsletter will keep you up-to-date with our latest updates and newest resources.

Working on it...
Successfully subscribed to the newsletter
Sorry, something went wrong
September 28, 2017

Need Some Help Saying No?

Bruce Murray

, ,

Share this post:

They call them "the terrible twos" for a reason. Tell a two-year-old to put away his toys because it's time for a bath and you'll likely be subjected to a screaming "No."

Let’s assume that the toddler's parents reprimanded him for his outbursts, then sent him off to his bedroom. But his behavior continued at school, where his classmates thought he was selfish and self-centered. They did not invite him to play, and scornfully rolled their eyes when they were forced to include him.

Eventually, Chris learned that by saying "Yes," he was welcomed to participate. The more he said "Yes," the more people viewed him as kind and helpful.

Soon, they appreciated having him around, and shared with him the things they most valued. He'd learned that being agreeable opened many doors of opportunity. Very often, people who are too quick to say "No" are judged to be demanding, selfish, and confrontational.

The Yes-Man

Now imagine that same child as a twentysomething working in an office. "Hey, Chris," the boss says, "can you help me go through these résumés? We need to get the interviews going."

"Sure, boss," Chris says, "I've got my presentation first thing in the morning, but I can finish it at home tonight." Very likely, Chris will not just say "Yes" to the boss but also to anyone in the office who asks for help.

Seeking Approval

Diana Kander says that "we live in a culture of 'Yes'… Likability has become a key determinant in landing jobs and other professional opportunities." However, maybe we've learned the lesson to not say "No" a little too well, according to Dr. Harriet Braiker:

People-pleasers are not just nice people who go overboard trying to make everyone happy. Those who suffer from the Disease to Please are people who say "Yes" when they really want to say "No."

For them, the uncontrollable need for the elusive approval of others is an addiction. Their debilitating fears of anger and confrontation force them to use "niceness" and "people-pleasing" as self-defense camouflage.

It's OK to Say No

When you're considering a request for help, consider your priorities and deadlines. If you need a little time, ask for a day to evaluate, but only a day. Even if you find that you have some time, ask yourself if this is something that you would enjoy doing.

It’s OK to say "No." Do it with grace and authority. Here is some simple advice from The Muse on how to say it.

First, appreciate that the person values your help and sought you out. If it’s something you wish you had the time for, say so.

Second, use the old "It's not you, it's me" line. Validate the appropriateness of the request, but say with regret that you are unable to participate.

Third, tell it like it is. Offer an explanation of what's preventing you from helping, but keep it brief.

Last, as you consider the help requested, you can offset any ill feelings by offering a piece of advice that might keep them from learning a lesson the hard way, or by suggesting someone else who might benefit from helping.

Confronting the Boss

But, what if the request comes from the boss and you just really can't afford the time? Recommend that the two of you review your priorities. See what can be tossed aside to allow you to help on the new project.

While the focus here is to encourage you to be more willing to say "No," saying "Yes" is, of course, a beautiful thing. Just be careful. You might (barely) have time to help with another project, but will you lose focus on your own work?

Craig Cincotta warns that, "[In saying 'Yes'] you begin to create ripples of productivity [in your own work] when you should be making waves [emphasis added]."

Take Pride in What You Don't Do

If you need more help justifying saying "No," consider Steve Jobs's advice:

People think focus means saying "Yes" to the thing you've got to focus on. But that's not what it means at all. It means saying "No" to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You must pick carefully. I'm as proud of the things we haven't done as the things I have done.

Here's one last thought about these "yes or no" situations. Recognize that we are judged by the yes/no decisions that we make. If someone asks for your help to do something that you find morally objectionable, do not sacrifice your principles.

Again, with grace and authority, explain your thinking. Who knows, maybe you'll get some people to rethink their actions and say "No" to themselves.

Share this post:

4 comments on “Need Some Help Saying No?”

  1. After reading these article, I feel it up to my mind with motivation and always say "Yes" .
    It can help my job problems and improve my personal kill.

    1. Thanks Laura for sharing your thoughts. Sometimes it can be tough to decide between saying yes and saying no. We need to weigh up the pros and the cons before we answer.

  2. It's a practical approach with very valuable tips. We could also consider inquiring why does the customer want it: this clarification will help in better understanding and help decide correctly whether to say Yes or No

    1. Thanks Joyame for sharing your thoughts. That sounds like a good approach to seek clarification to better understand the request and from that point, better able to decide how to proceed.

Gain essential management and leadership skills

Busy schedule? No problem. Learn anytime, anywhere. Subscribe to unlimited access to meticulously researched, evidence-based resources. Join today!
Join Mind Tools

You may also like...

November 2, 2023

Dyslexia at Work: How I Learned to Live With My Dyslexia

How can organizations help dyslexic employees? Jaye O'Farrell-Stevens shares his journey with dyslexia – and gives his tips on how to help.

, ,

October 3, 2023

My Experience Working Through Menopause

After turning 50, Sales Manager Katie Danes vowed to challenge the silence around menopause. She shares her experience in this blog

August 10, 2023

Triggers: How to Stop Rising to the Bait

"He’d also just talk over people, including me. And my reaction was not me at my best. I just sat there in a passive-aggressive huff. " - Simon Bell

, , ,

© Mind Tools Ltd 2024. All rights reserved. "Mind Tools" is a registered trademark of Mind Tools Ltd.
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram