An employee asks you to cover for her while she’s taking a long lunch. Another wants you to donate to her favorite charity. A third asks you to extend his deadline on a time-critical project. Sometimes “no” is one of the most difficult things you can say to an employee.
“But when you say ‘yes’ when you really don’t want to or really shouldn’t, you end up feeling taken advantage of,” says communications training consultant Lin Walker. “Not saying no when you should can undermine your self-confidence, as well as your ability to deal with similar situations in the future.”
Walker says it is easier to say “no” when you are equipped with the responses that won’t upset your employees or make you look uncaring and selfish. Here are five easy ways to say “no”:
1. The ‘No, but…’ response
Use this when: You’re willing to negotiate. Example: An employee asks for your help on a project she’s falling behind on.
You say: “No, but we may be able to work something out if you’d be willing to help me get that big mailing out at the beginning of next week.”
Why it works: “You’re saying no to the initial request, but you’re also showing that you’re willing to change your mind if the other person can meet your requirements,” says Stephen Schoonover, president of Schoonover Associates, a consulting firm in Falmouth, MA.
2. The no sandwich
Use this when: You’d like to help but you can’t. Example: An employee asks for a report you aren’t prepared to release.
You say: “I can understand why an early copy of my report could be useful to you in tomorrow’s decision. However, I can’t release the sales numbers until the close of business today. I do hope the meeting goes well because that decision will have a big impact on both your division and ours.”
Why it works: Begin your “no” with a positive or neutral statement about what the other person has asked you to do. “That shows the person you have listened well. Make the second statement the ‘no’ part of your message. Ending with a neutral or positive statement about the request or situation shows that you have no hard feelings because you were asked and that you feel no guilt about saying no,” explains Dianna Booher, author of Communicate with Confidence!
3. The ‘It’s for your own good’ no
Use this when: Saying no will actually benefit the requestor. Example: A friend in another department is desperately looking for a new position and hears that your department is hiring. You really don’t think he’d be the right person for the position. He asks, “Would you mind putting in a good word for me?”
You say: “I’m not sure you’ll find your niche here. You’re great at coming up with creative ideas, but we need number crunchers.”
Why it works: Your friend needs honest feedback. “If he isn’t a match for the department, then you’re saving him from wasting [his] time,” says clinical psychologist Harriet B. Braiker in her book Who’s Pulling Your Strings?
4. The butt-out no
Use this when: Someone asks you a nosy question. Example: A colleague is asking for a raise. She asks you, “What are they paying you?”
You say: “I really hope you get the raise, because you deserve it. But I don’t discuss my salary.”
Why it works: “It’s often easier to say no if you first empathize. The other person is usually less likely to argue with your answers,” says Greg Markway, coauthor of Painfully Shy: How to Overcome Social Anxiety and Reclaim Your Life.
5. The rain-check no
Use this when: You must say no this time, but don’t necessarily want to discourage further requests. Example: An employee wants you to join her on a site visit to one of the company’s production plants.
You say: “What an opportunity for on-the-job training! If it were any other week, I’d love to accompany you on the tour. Please put my name at the top of the list the next time you have an opening.”
Why it works: There are times when you regret turning down the request. “Requesting a rain check shows that you’re receptive to a similar request down the line,” Booher says.