Learning To Say “No” (Part 9) – Taking The Right Approach To Say “No”

by Patrick Liew on January 6, 2012

It is not the fact that I say “No,” but the way I say it that oftentimes upset the other party. It is not what I say but how I say it that caused problems.

Therefore, it is important for me to have a comprehensive arsenal of strategies to handle different situations. It also helps me say “No” in the most appropriate way.

Suffice to say, when I say “No,” I must do it in a firm and symphatetic way. I may have to maintain eye contact and to do so in a caring manner.

I must do it professionally, gently and politely – and support it with the right body language.

At no time should I make the other party feel that I am leading him or delaying his request. I should not also give him the impression that I will change my mind in the future.

1. Direct Approach

This is one of the simplest and yet one of the most effective ways – just say “No.”

The more I practiced saying “No,” the easier it is for me to do so.

Eg. “Thank you for believing in me. I am not in a position to be of any help at this moment.”

If I don’t believe the request is valid and that I should accept the commitment, I will turn it down and stand firm on my decision.

I do not have to feel bad about it in any way. It’s perfectly okay to decline the request. In fact, I should be happy about  making a wise decision.

2. ‘Delay’ Approach

When somebody makes a request or demand, it is perfectly okay to say, “Let me think about it. I will respond to you shortly.”

This approach is to communicate to the other party that I am not declining the request, I just need time to evaluate it.

I want to be sure that I can fulfill the obligation and that it will not affect my responsibility and duties to others.

I also want to be sure that I am the best person to do it. There are no other ways to achieve the same outcome.

The other party will respect me for being wise and considerate. That way, when I say “No,” they will appreciate that I have evaluated the request and will not be able to achieve a win-win outcome. If they don’t appreciate it, they’re probably the wrong kind of friends.

3. Justified Approach

In this approach, I will explain to the other party why I have to say “No.” I will not do it in an apologetic or defensive manner. At the same time, I should not harbor any false sense of guilt or remorse.

Eg. “I cannot help you at this moment as I am involved in another project.”

It may be good to let them know what’s keeping me occupied and why I cannot avail myself. In addition, it may be useful to let the other party know why I cannot stretch myself to fulfill the request properly.

4. Conditional Approach

One of the ways for saying “No” is to offer a conditional “Yes.”

Eg. “I love to help you. However, I’m currently tied down with another project. Can you come back to me in two months time?”

This is a good approach to let the other parties know that I want to be of help to them. However, I have to hold off the decision as I am currently tied down by another commitment. I show my sincerity by letting him know when I can avail myself to assist him.

5. Responsibility Approach

This is a good approach to encourage the other party to be responsible and to take charge in fulfilling part of the request.

Eg. “I love to help you. However, I’m currently tied down with another project.

“Can I suggest that you do… and follow by… We can evaluate the project again and see if you still need any input from me.”

With a shared responsibility approach, I show my sincerity in helping the other party.

I am encouraging him to take full responsibility and to do what is important.

I am offering a helping hand, not a hand-out. If I don’t do it, I will do more harm than good.

In this way I will develop a more meaningful partnership.

6. Preemptive Approach

In this approach, I nip the request at its bud by preempting it and resolving it before it is being raised.

Eg. At the start of a project, I will tell the participants, “I will have to complete my current major project first. If not, there will be a heavy penalty and it will also affect our company’s reputation.

This is a good approach as it will ensure that the other parties are aware of why I am not available and the challenges in overstretching myself. They cannot blame me or feel rejected by me. 

7. Advice Approach

One of the ways to say “No” is to offer advice instead of taking action.

Eg. “I’m not in a position currently to help you. You should do… and then followed by…”

In this approach, I can advice them, share ideas with them, introduce them to other sources of help, or refer them to another party. If need be, I can coach and guide them to achieve the right outcome.

This can be the next best thing to do if I am currently involved with an important project and do not have time to help. The other parties should be appreciative of my desire to help them.

8. ‘Yes / But’ Approach

This is a typical Asian approach of saying “No” in a gentle way without causing the other party to lose face.

Eg. “I love to help you. However,…“

“I want to compliment you for taking up this worthy cause but I am unable to help you because…”

“You have won my respect and admiration for taking on this task. Unfortunately, I can’t help you as…”

Obviously, the right way to take this approach is to be honest and sincere about it. I want to affirm the other party’s task, show him due respect for it, and give him my encouragement.

9. ‘Not Me’ Approach

This is a good approach to take if I am the wrong person to fulfill the request, unable to fulfill it at the moment, or incapable of doing a good job.

Eg. “I’m unable to achieve the right outcome. Please approach (referral). He may be able to help you.

As I have always aimed to be a solution provider and a problem solver, I will try to offer him a plan, an advice, or an alternative to fulfill his request and achieve the desired result.

It may be wise to put my approach in writing first. By doing that, I can give due consideration and fine tune my approach. It may be easier to implement the approach and ensure that it is done correctly.

Whatever approach taken, it must be appropriate to the other party, task and situation. It requires commitment and discipline.

I need to practice it and say it in an appropriate way. When I rehearse often enough, I become more comfortable with it. It will get easier and more effective.


I hope this message will find a place in your heart.

By the way, I have also recorded other reflections.

Visit my Transformation blog at http://hsrpatrickliew.wordpress.com/

Visit my Inspiration blog at http://liewinspiration.wordpress.com/

Please read them and continue to teach me.

Life is FUNtastic!


Think: How can I take the right approach to say “No?”


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