How to say no, not NO

Search online and there are pages and pages (and pages) of links to advice and techniques on how to say no. Interestingly, the vast majority focuses on the challenge of saying no. There are myriad variations on “how to say no” titles, assertiveness techniques and my personal favourite, “How to say no and still be liked.”

What I struggled to find was material on how to say no rather than NO:

– How to soften directness so you don’t shut down the conversation and look rude

– How to manage a no without confrontation or leaving the other party feeling aggrieved

– How to say no but ensure the other party is still willing to engage and contribute 

I’m sure I haven’t invented it and it probably has a fancy title, but I call my technique ‘bridging’ and like so many things I love, it’s clear and simple. 

This is how it works: imagine you’re a project manager and a client relationship manager wants to bring forward a deadline to keep a client happy. But it can’t be done, it’s just not possible. The CRM wants to tell the client it could be possible in order to keep them engaged but you’re concerned that such action will cause problems rather than solve them.

What do you do?

Tell the CRM that the answer is no and that they shouldn’t talk about it?

You could. But it might be too blunt for them if you just shut down the idea. It might even generate conflict and make the issue bigger than it needs to be, leaving you and the CRM on opposite sides.

Instead, you could build a bridge and ask the CRM to come across it, to get them to your side.Sound good? Yes, but how do you do that?

A short option is:

“I appreciate that this is not the answer you are looking for, but for X and Y reasons, we are not able to move the deadline.”

You’re there, I’m here, there’s a gap in the middle but acknowledging the reasons will help you move from where you are to where I am. You are listening to them and perhaps more importantly, they feel that you are listening to them. 

A more detailed option could be:

“As the project manager, my responsibility is to get the project delivered to plan. I appreciate that as CRM your role is to keep the client engaged and I do understand why you are asking for this. 

I can assure you I have looked at the request and considered all possibilities but, for two reasons, the answer is no. Firstly (give the reason) and secondly (give the reason).

Based on those reasons, can we agree that you’ll tell the client the deadline can’t move? And can we agree you won’t mention the possibility?”

Essentially, I’m here, you’re there but these reasons will enable you (or force you) to come across to my side.

To generate goodwill and reinforce collaboration, you could offer to help in another way, still adding value but by different means to help ease the other person across to your side.

The key to this technique is acknowledging difference, putting it out there that you’re on different sides – and not pretending otherwise.

Those sides might be role-based like the example above, or they might be based on other factors such as experience levels, cultural differences or industry sector.

This technique of softening a ‘NO’ to a ‘no’ has brought success for my clients and for me in my business.

If you’d like some help saying no (or even yes), then why not get in touch for a chat?

Linkedin Louise Newton
Photo Xavi Cabrera on Unsplash

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