YES, BUT I REALLY
by Guy Perring
LAST week we looked at assertiveness. One of the key techniques is
being able to say “no”! Learning how to say “no” can be hard, but
it’s something that can really help you be more productive, reduce
stress and do a better job with the things you do say “yes” to.
Saying “no” to some things can actually help everyone involved.
Learning how (and when) to say “no” is something that takes
practice, especially if you’re someone who is honestly interested
in helping everyone you can, or if you feel guilty every time you
turn down a request for help.
Do you say “no” for any of the
- You don’t want to hurt somebody’s feelings
- You don’t want to explain why you want to say “no”
- You don’t want to say anything the other person might interpret
- You feel compelled to spend time with the person because you
haven’t seen them in months
- The other person is particularly important to you
- You would really like to oblige but you really don’t have the
If you answered “yes” to any of these, recall some recent examples
and think about them.
Our decision to say “no” depends on our:
- confidence about following our values and decisions
- comfort about meeting our personal needs
- understanding that our own sense of worth doesn’t depend on
others’ judgements of us
- wisdom in understanding our own limitations
One of the difficulties is the language to say “no”. Here are seven
suggestions allowing you to say “no” and preserving your
relationship with your colleagues:
- I have deadlines for several
projects at the moment.
(You need to be clear that you have no time currently. Don’t accept
extra work, when you know you can’t complete in time or to the
- I don’t think I have the
necessary skills to complete this kind of work.
(Don’t accept work that you know you can’t do.)
- I really don’t have the time
at the moment.
(This may be because of work/personal reasons.)
- You will do a great job
(This can sound patronising, but it may be that a colleague is
asking for help or lacks the self-confidence to complete the work
- Why don’t I arrange a meeting
with John who I’m sure can help?
(Pointing colleagues to other experts is a useful skill and
strengthens the organisation as a whole.)
- I’d be happy to help
(Don’t use this unless you genuinely want to or can help.)
(A direct “no” is fine if delivered in a careful manner. Don’t say
it loudly or too quickly.)
The phrases above can help you stop saying “yes” to every request
and build your assertiveness.
Perring is Director, Professional Development Unit (PDU), at the
British Council Malaysia. The PDU offers a wide range of learning
opportunities from management and communication skills training to
developing English skills. Visit it at www.britishcouncil.org.my
or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.