We all know we need to say NO at times. Otherwise, every YES that should be a NO risks resulting in a NO that should be a YES down the road.  But saying NO can be incredibly hard.

Saying yes all of the time, is not simply people pleasing, although that is a piece of it.  It is also the fear of a lost opportunity, and all that could flow from it.

So before discussing some suggestions on how to say NO, let me tell you the 3 biggest mistakes I see:

  1. Non-Responsiveness

Of course, you cannot respond to every e-mail or phone call with someone trolling for business.  But what if you have a business relationship with someone and that includes an internal colleague.

Not responding, repeatedly, may feel like existential bullying.  “You don’t even recognize that I exist.”

It may be even worse if there is selective non-responsiveness.  It may be seen as cowardice or arrogance.  I am uncomfortable responding so I won’t, or I will respond when I want.

Too busy to respond?  Perhaps you need to think a little more about relationships and not just tasks.

  1. Short Response: NO

Many of us have heard the expression, NO is a complete sentence. But whether it is an effective sentence is a different story.

Do you have to tell someone why?  No.

Do you want to build or maintain a relationship? Then the “why” is important.

  1. Too Much Detail

As bad as just saying NO is to explain all the reasons why is also bad.

I can’t because (followed by every possible reason).

Three (3) problems with this:

First, it takes too long to read or listen.

Second, it may come off as whiny.

Third, it may invite negotiations.  “Isn’t what I have asked you to do more important than….?”

So how do you say NO?

I was thinking about this as I watched Shark Tank.  Pay attention to how you feel when each shark says NO.

Mr. Wonderful can be anything but.  At times, his NOs are just plain mean.

Sometimes he attacks the idea.  Other times, he attacks the person.

No negative consequences for him because the objects of his attacks leave the shark tank and connect no more.

But what if you want or need to work with someone after the NO?  More lessons from Shark Tank follow.

While the other sharks are good at saying NO, particularly Robert Herjavec, none is as good as Lori Grenier, in my opinion.  So, after many episodes, I have broken down what I call the Grenier approach to saying NO.

1. Acknowledges the Value/Need

Lori always, or almost always, says something positive about the proposal initially.

Let’s go outside the tank.  Try this:  Appreciate what you are doing and/or asking.

A few kind words never hurt.  Kindness is under-valued.

2. Explains why it does not work for her

Lori does not attack the person or the product.

She explains why it won’t work for her.

Outside the shark tank, consider:

  • I appreciate your need but we don’t have the money in the budget.
  • I like your idea but I don’t have the time with other commitments.

3. Wishes the person luck

After saying she is out, Lori invariably wishes the person luck.  Yes, you can be tough and kind!

Sometimes wishing the person luck works outside the shark tank, too.  “I cannot participate but wish you luck with X.”

Sometimes you will need to go further if it is an internal colleague:  “I cannot do this now but I would love to help when I can.”

Making NO Comfortable for You to Say

You need to say NO.  But you need to do so in a way that does not antagonize or worse.

You want to say NO that conveys respect.  Watch Lori Grenier on Shark Tank to hone your skills.

I appreciate your reading this short blog.

I have other commitments so I must stop.

But I wish you luck in saying NO to tasks in way that says YES to the relationship.

Photo Credit: David McCudden Flickr via Compfight cc