The Art of Saying No


The word just rolls off the tongue. From an early age many of us are taught to be accommodating, flexible and open. So the word yes, became our best friend.

So what to do when you need to say No tactfully? It can be one of the biggest challenges in the workplace; one that can affect both employer and employee. It is an exercise in boundary setting, and can often lead to uncomfortable and difficult situations. If an employee decides to push back, supervisors can possibly go into an “insubordinate” mentality. On the other hand, if an employer firmly refuses a request, an employee may take that to represent unfairness or lack of appreciation for their thoughts and needs.

As in all relationships-whether around the water cooler or dinner table- often the answer is in “how” the No is delivered in tandem with the “when”, “where” and “why”. Saying No doesn’t have to just be an art- if that concept seems abstract for those of us less creatively minded. Think of saying No as building another muscle that should be carefully developed. Knowing the best time, setting and language to deliver the No can dramatically increase the chance for success.

Over time, one can release resistance to saying No, realizing it is an important way to enforce your needs. Saying No can open up a dialogue- understanding why the No came to be can open up context that was previously unknown. Likewise it can lead to greater self empowerment in other areas of one’s life. Benefits of boundary setting can improve dynamics when an arrangement isn’t working or has been stagnant- not just for an employee but for employers too.

No doesn’t need to be the end of a sentence. In fact, with the right maneuvering it can lead to your desired outcome or at least begin negotiations that leave both parties feeling seen and heard in order to reach a mutually beneficial conclusion.