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  • Writer's pictureStu

How do you like to say no? *plus some strategies to try

I reckon that we can become addicted to yes.


Can you review this doc… yes


Have you got 2 minutes… yes


Can you just meet with them and sort it out… yes


Let's just squeeze that into the scope … yes


Hmm… should I rewrite their shonky contract … yes



In the last six months, many of my clients have been wanting strategies for saying no. The yeses are piling up, and they're feeling stretched. They're worried that if they don't say no more often, they're on a quick path to overload, failure and breakdown.


BUT… it's hard to say no. We fear the reaction or impression that our no could create. We want to be helpful and respectful… what will they think of us? Yet the noes are necessary. Without the no, we'll have no chance of delivering on what is most important. We have noes because we have priorities.


What are your strategies for saying no?


Here are a few of the strategies I've been discussing with clients:


► No, but…

One client of mine loves to provide options. This is the "No, but" approach. "No, I can't draft that SOW, but I could spend 20 minutes later this week walking through a draft with you or perhaps work on an outline with you tomorrow". The trick is giving at least two options, which provides the asker with a sense of autonomy and choice, making the whole process feel much more comfortable.


► Set the table for no

This is about priming your stakeholders that some noes could be on the menu in the coming weeks and why that's important. Once we've done that, it's a bit easier to say no. This strategy is excellent for repeat askers and provides space for you to build some vision around why the no is necessary.


► Provide space for no

Some are so emotionally attached to yes that their autopilot will take them to that same destination every single time. To break this pattern it helps to build a routine that provides a cooling-off period for a less emotionally driven response. For example, when asked to do X, you might say, "I'd love to help with this, but I also want to make sure I can do this and not let you down. Can I get back to you on this tomorrow?"


Strategies like these are helpful, but there's something to focus on first: conviction. Why do we want to say no? What is the bigger yes that we will say no for? Unless we know this, we'll find it hard to have the courage to say no.


How do you like to say no?


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