Its sounds so simple, just say NO, right?
And yes, sometimes there may well be a time for a firm unambiguous statement of NO.
Then again, not always. You need to combine the "No" with some influencing and negotiating and professionalism. Then it is all about how you say it that matters. How do side step the fight or argument about it? How do you say it without raising tempers and avoiding creating a confrontation?
It turns out that there is a simple, practical 4- step NO statement that you can easily practice and find out for yourself how well this can work.
These four phases are simple preparation steps to experiment with in situations whenever you need to influence outcomes in a positive way. Whenever you want to maximise your chances of not ending up doing something that was actually supposed to be a non-negotiable for you.
OK, so get to the point, what is it?.... Well no, not yet, because as with any communication, what you say – the words you use - take second place to how you say it. So we need to take a moment here on the style of your communication, and what about that?
Body language and tone first, words second: Think about how you would like someone to say No to you? I know, you don't want anyone saying that word to you, like ever, however, you know it will happen sometime. And so, how would you like it to be?
Try this on:
- Calm, straight-forward: Not shouty, not aggressive, not sugar-coated or wishy washy, 'maybe, could you possibly' none of that… Also, definitely not sneaky or creepy in any way. So a confident, simple - even gentle if you like - unambiguous No.
- Polite and respectful: You respect me, I will respect you.
- Professional: You are one, so be one.
- Helpful: What? Yes. An attitude of being helpful, it will show in your body language and tone. What are you helpful with? You are helpful with the alternatives.
So step zero is get the attitude, get the mindset of how you would want someone to say No to you, respectfully, professionally and with a helpful approach.
Now we can do the four steps. Here they are:
1. Say NO. Yes! Make a clear statement so they actually know you are saying no. You don't always need the 'no' word, something like. "Sorry, I can't commit to that right now", "I am not able to do that", "It's not possible for me", etc. Feel free to apologise and adapt your style to the person, just don't overdo the apologising and do get to the point, which is to say NO.
2. Give reasons. Explain your rationale, explain the reason you have for saying no. Be honest about it, real reasons work best (fake reasons will send you to hell one day). Straightforward again, with an easy tone, not apologetic, nor angry, not justifying, or preachy, just lay it out clearly.
3. Offer alternatives. Provide some ideas for alternative solutions (preparation helps here). Who else? How else? When else? Other your ideas for other ways of getting it done. Ideally two alternative options work best.
4. Gain their commitment. Check in with them what they think about the options. Be ready to discuss the alternative options with them, because if you are discussing the alternatives, what are you not discussing? You are not discussing your 'No'. Job done, it's in the bag!
Four special influencing tips for doing this really well.
First tip: "AND" never "BUT"
Avoid "sorry I would like to help, but.."
When giving options you may be tempted to say something like "but , we can do/ offer, etc".
This will upset people. But is a confrontational word. Never ever use BUT when you want to influence someone!
"I like you, but.." "You did a great job, but…" "I hear what you are saying but, this is what we are going to do"
Always substitute AND. And you can always do this, cant you?
"I like you, and.." "You did a great job, and…" "I hear what you are saying, and this is what we are going to do"
So when building great relationships "Leave your buts behind".
Second Tip: Giving Reasons, then influence with the power of BECAUSE
Because is a powerful influencing word, because we are conditioned to hear a reason after it. Use it when giving your reasons for saying 'No'.
Research shows that with the use of because, we become more accepting, even if the reason given is nonsense. Try it sometime: "Excuse me I need to get in front of the line here, because it is really important for me to get to the front". You will be surprised.
(For more on this see: Are you using the most powerful word in the English language?)
Third Tip: Give alternative options as Double Binds
This influencing pattern applies to offering options and alternatives. If you can include in your alternatives statement a level of choice, the other person will feel in control and again more accepting. Only include truly negotiable elements in the options. E.g. "We need this report urgently, can you do it by Wednesday, or Friday?" Don't make the doing what you want a negotiable element and yet still create do choice where you can be flexible. This works especially well on very decisive people and small children. As in "would you like to do your homework now, or after you have had a bath?" (Note: like many influencing techniques this one does not apply to teenagers, that's a different skill set).
Fourth Tip: Gain Commitment with Open Questions
Open questions gain commitment. As much as you may want to say at the end of your No statement "Is that OK?" Don't! A closed Question will elicit a Y/N response. If you are lucky you get a "yes". Its 50/50 that you will get a "no" and then all your good work is undone and you have created two 'No' statements in the room and you need will need to switch into conflict managing mode. Better not.
So always use an open question at the end, good examples are "How would that be?" "What is the best option for you?" "How would you like to do this?" etc.
Further Examples for using the 4-steps:
A. Your boss asks you to attend a late night conference call at 10.30pm this evening. She has a last minute appointment; however you have a family dinner planned with your in-laws.
- I'm sorry, I can't make that call tonight
- Because I have a family dinner arranged
- How about we get someone on the call to summarise the points and email them overnight, or we could ask for the call to be recorded?
- What's the best option?
B. A colleague of yours is going on 3 months medical leave, she asks you to cover her project for her. She has a direct report; however she doesn't trust him to do the job.
- Sorry, I cannot commit to that
- Because I am already too overloaded myself
- Let your direct report know that they can come to me for help when they need it and I could if you like also have a regular update with them to ensure they are delivering
- How would that be?
C. There is an important report being reviewed in the management meeting this morning and a colleague asks you to attend on their behalf. You have other priorities today.
- Ah it's a shame, I can't do that for you
- Because I have an urgent deadline this morning
- It maybe that Joe could make it
- How about I introduce you?*
*A bit too sneaky maybe? This is why a couple of options work better. On the other hand, only ever offer up what you are truly prepared do. In other words make sure you are clear about what is negotiable and what isn't for you.
D. There is a new guy just joined the team today and the boss asks you to show him around and introduce him to some key people. You have a client proposal due out today.
- Ah sorry boss, no can do
- Because I've got this urgent client proposal due today
- How about I take him around tomorrow, or who else in the team can I ask to help?
- Which is the best option, do you think?
So you get the idea. As with any good theory like this, the only way you are going to really learn and find out for yourself what works, is to go and experiment. And do have a go at this, because the rewards for you and your work life balance and keeping good relationships could make this one of the most useful and simple techniques you have ever gained.
Think of a time coming up when you will need to say no. Set aside 5 minutes to write up the four steps and practice it. Then test.
Avoid trivial examples, and maybe don't experiment first time around on the MD; however do pick something that is important to you and where getting a better outcome for yourself for a change would be a good thing. As you practice more, this can become a second nature and powerful relationship skill in your leadership toolbox.
Just do it and good luck.
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