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How to Say ‘No’ and Make it Stick

“‘No’ may be the most powerful word in the language, but it’s also potentially the most destructive, which is why it’s hard to say,” says William Ury, director of the Global Negotiations Project at Harvard University, and author of”The Power of a Positive No: How to Say No and Still Get to Yes.

Ury believes that saying no is so difficult because it surfaces the “tension between exercising your power and tending to your relationship.”

In other words, you want to put your foot down and be true to your convictions. But you also don’t want to estrange yourself from friends and family members. You want everyone to like you.

My neighbor often asks me to go on errands with her. I don’t want to hurt her feelings, so I often say “Yes,” when what I really want to do is to say, “No.”

That’s why many people choose avoidance (like pulling down the blinds and telling the kids not to answer the door when the neighbor comes calling). Unfortunately, this gets you neither respect of your opinions or warm fuzzies from friends.

13 Comments to
How to Say ‘No’ and Make it Stick

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  1. I like this last phrase, “to say yes to the right things, you have to say no to a lot of other things.” because I believe it to be true. I had to say no to a lot of things and even people in order to better my situation. At times, many times it was hard to say, “no” but with practice it got easier. I also liked the sandwich idea because it is easy for people to take things the wrong way.

    Anyways, thanks!

  2. Sometimes, depending of the context, “No thanks” is enough.

  3. An excellent series of books on “No” is the Boundaries books by Cloud and Townsend:

    Boundaries and Dating
    Boundaries In Marriage
    Boundaries With Kids
    and just the first one, Boundaries

    Love the ideas of sandwiching a “No” with some “Yes’s”

  4. I like this article… I think a lot of it stems from our nature to be positive and helpful to people around us. We want to feel important; we want to be liked. So it’s natural for many of us to automatically say “yes” and be helpful, rather than “no” and risk people disliking us for that.

  5. I’d be interested in hearing more about saying “no” in work situations. Especially with startups where there’s 10x more work than can ever get done in a day, I’ve found that it’s absolutely critical to say no in order to edit the day’s activities and focus on what’s truly important. Unfortunately, the requests are often coming from superiors, which makes saying “no” even more difficult as not only interpersonal relationships are at stake, but also potentially one’s job.

    • In reply to what I hear you saying Eric in wanting more info on how to say “no” in work situations and what arises for me with the article and other comments is: especially with work where we want to be productive accomplishing the most important tasks but often get overwhelmed with quantity of expectations I’ve found being straight forward and saying just that, “I would really appreciate some clarification on the priorities so I may be of the utmost service” is usually appreciated by any employer.
      Why is it we are so willing to please others that we dismiss ourselves and our priorities? I’m not so sure it’s in the saying “no”. I believe being honest about our feelings allows us to be “liked” by those who love and respect us for speaking up.

  6. This technique can be quite helpful with children, especially adolescents who often only hear the “no,” no matter what you actually said. With my colleagues, I have learned that the “sandwich method” leaves them believing that I’m open to being asked to take on yet another project again, often before our conversation has ended. With these colleagues, the most effective response is a simple, no,” perhaps with a very short explanation. Since my male colleagues have no trouble using this communication style, while the women do, I’m pretty sure that women have a more difficult time saying “no” and (falsely) believe that their colleagues will label them as not being team players (the ultimate corporate misdeed).

  7. That wasn’t a very good example. It might serve as a main-idea analogy from which to draw, to create one’s own better example. The expression, by the way, is “once in a while,” not “once and awhile.”

  8. An old management technique is compliment, good work, critique, try this next time, compliment, we’re happy with your work, this might make you more money.

    Compliment, Critique, Compliment, excellent communication technique, especially for managers, and therapists use a similar technique.

  9. I really liked this short article because it will help me deal with people who continually ask for more than I’m really want to do. I can now say no without feeling guilty.

  10. Great article! I have had a little problem in the past with people knowing I’m an IT Consltant / Java Developer and computers are my thing. Sometimes it’s like being a doctor at a party… I took to giving out my business card when people I barely knew wanted me to fix their (usually complex) issues in a 2 minute conversation. It’s not always so easy and I am in business after all! Other times I’m happy to occasionally volunteer my time for good friends who don’t just call when they want something. I don’t live in expectation most of the time. I am respectful of others’ time and appreciate the same. Boundaries are better than perpetuating a cycle of irritation and resentment!

  11. I always say no if I don’t want to do something because when I said yes to people when I really wanted to say no. It left me feeling worse and all churned up inside. I also noticed that people just took it for granted that you would always say yes to them. I used to get so churned up inside and tense. So I decided that if I anyone asked me to do something I did not want to do, I would simply just say no. And if they asked me “why not” I would just tell them becasue I don’t want too. No explanation as then you find youself making up excuses so as not to hurt the persons feeling or annoy them. It works for me and people know where they stand with me. Also in reverse when I ask a person to do anything for me and they fob me off with the “I’ll think about it” or any of the usual excuses they use and never get back to you hoping that you dont ask again. I will ask one more time and if they fob me off again. I simply ask them for a yes or no. If the subject comes up in casual conversation that I let them know that I don’t have to explain why I dont want to do something when I am asked and also when I ask someone a favour I want a simple yes or no not just a ok I will think about it. Because that usually means the person does not really want to. It works for me and its great to feel my self not getting tense and churned up inside when I am doing something I did not really want to do.

  12. im way too much of a people pleaser and im only 16 i feel its a bad habit to get into as you feel guilty or ashamed that you’ve hurt either a friend or a relative, learn to say no but make sure you sometimes say yes, every relationship with different people male, female, friends, family needs to be balanced with the answers or yes and no, otherwise saying yes all the time is quite unhealthy and can cause a lot of time managment problems



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