7 ways to say ‘no’ without explaining

Departments - Business Minds

Use these strategies for turning down work when your to-do list is full.

January 4, 2017

Photo: Laura Watilo Blake

You are a highflier. When you say you’ll do something, it gets done well and on time, regardless of the personal cost. It’s your character, and a huge part of the success you so richly deserve.

Unfortunately, being highly responsible also sets you up to be the parade pooper-scooper. If you’re someone who regularly cleans up messes, you know exactly what I mean.

There are two major problems with being the parade pooper-scooper. First, you will never be fully effective, creative or happy if you take on other people’s jobs and life responsibilities. Secondly, instead of being helpful, you’re actually conditioning people to drop the ball and do less than their share.

What about you? Are you good at saying “no?” Are you willing to let others fail and suffer the consequences of their actions or lack thereof? Or, does the thought of the ball getting dropped keep you in a vicious clean-up cycle?

If you’re regularly carrying other people’s workloads and responsibilities, it’s time to tell yourself the truth about whether your employees are truly good employees or if it’s time to take corrective action. It’s time to start reminding yourself, “Not my circus. Not my monkeys.” And, it’s time to start saying “no” without explaining yourself.

Seven ways to say “no” without explanation:

1. “No.” While this short answer gets the job done, if you cross your arms, stomp your foot and say it forcefully, you will sound like a 2-year-old. Not good for inspiring loyalty and admiration in your followers.

2. “No, thank you.” Clear, concise and far more polite than an emphatic “no.”

3. “That doesn’t/won’t work for me.” When faced with this answer, healthy individuals accept your push back. Additionally, it often leads to creating a solution that works for both parties.

4. “I can’t do that, but I’m happy to do this.” Use this answer when you can cheerfully do a portion of the request, or have something else to offer that doesn’t cause you to feel resentful.

5. “I’m flattered to be asked, but my plate is full. You might want to ask [insert name of person who doesn’t carry their weight].” This is a simple way to even out the workload. As long as you’re willing to enable others to coast and do less than their job or share of the work, they will be delighted to do so.

6. “Let me get back with you.” This response gets you out of the heat of the moment and enables you to consider your resources and goals before making a commitment. Added bonus — it enables you to check with others before committing them. The only caveat is you actually need to get back with the person. Otherwise, you leave them hanging and become the person causing the problem.

7. “I can help you with that tomorrow (or next week, next month, next year).” This is the correct answer when a lack of preparation on their part compels them to try to make it your crisis/deadline. You know what’s on your plate, including your own deadlines, goals and resources. You also know their job responsibilities. Act accordingly.

Once you say “no,” it’s imperative that you stop talking. Offering excuses and explanations only weakens your stance and compels them to help you find a way to say “yes.” I regularly remind myself to “bite my tongue and die” when I’m tempted to engage in verbal overflow.

While saying “no” can be difficult and painful, doing so provides huge long term dividends professionally and personally. You may feel guilty, but rest assured, guilt goes away. Resentment, on the other hand, always builds. When forced to choose, I hope you’ll always pick guilt.

Sherene works with organizations that want to boost their Leadership IQ so they can enhance effectiveness, increase employee engagement and raise productivity. sherenemchenry.com