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Sticky Situation: How to Say "No" With Grace

In business, and in our community, there are times when you would like to say no, but are not sure how. Here is your guide to saying no at work and play.
no way candy heart
no way candy heart

Sticky situation:

"No." This two-letter answer, favoured by two-year-olds, is short, simple, to the point and absolutely your choice to use to refuse a request.

But, for most adults, it is not as easily said as for the little one who smiles and rhythmically nods his head back and forth.

In business, and in our community, there are times when you would like to say no, but are not sure how.

Here is your guide to saying no at work and play.


Sticky situation: An invitation to an event that you cannot or do not want to attend.

• Don't delay your answer, do so ASAP. The more prompt your refusal, the easier it will be for the recipient who will still have hope in hearing a positive response from the other attendees.

• Thank the person for including you.

• If you have another commitment, mention it first and then refuse the invitation. This approach will set the tone for your refusal as opposed to having the recipient wonder, for a brief moment, why you are refusing.

• Don't lie. You could get caught.

• If you are interested in connecting with the person, offer to meet at another date and time.

• Close with well wishes for the occasion and/or an allusion to a future connection.

• If you simply do not want to attend, be clear and send your regrets. There is no need to add fluff.

"I am unable to attend," suffices.

Sticky situation: A colleague asks you to proof his report.

• Recognize the confidence that is entrusted in you.

• Keep a friendly tone. Be realistic. Inform him of your own agenda and commitments.

"I appreciate your trust. I am working on tasks with tight deadlines and do not have any extra time." "I am flattered that you would ask me to review your work. Your topic is really not my expertise. I don't feel comfortable and hence I have to decline."

Sticky situation: Your leader asks you work on a new project with quick deliverables, on top of everything else that you have on the go.

• Recognize the confidence that is entrusted in you.

• Ask for clarification on the load of your tasks and deadlines.

"I would really like to participate in this new endeavour but want to make sure that I accomplish all that is already expected of me. Let's take the time to review the timeline to prioritize my obligations."

Sticky situation: On short notice, your boss asks you to work overtime and you have a previous commitment that you have RSVP'd to.

• Give a brief explanation. Don't go into all of the details.

• Offer alternate times to complete the requested task: during lunch, over the weekend, coming in early the next day or working from home.

• If this is a regular occurrence, initiate a conversation to review your work schedule. It may be time to revisit and change your work hours.

Sticky situation: A friend or colleague asks to borrow money.

• Only decide to lend an amount that you are comfortable never getting back. Once you give it, forget about it.

• Have a personal policy of never lending money and state it.

• Simply say no.

"I never lend money to people outside of my family." "I am sorry, I just can't afford to lend any money."

Sticky situation: A neighbour whom you view as disorganized and distracted asks to borrow a tool or your car.

• Offer to come over with the tool or to drive him to where he needs to be.

• Make it about you, not the neighbour.

"I am sorry but I don't lend things that I regularly need."

Sticky situation: You are solicited to contribute to a distant colleague's birthday gift.

• Decide on your office contributions, make up your policy and stick to it.

"Thanks for including me but I only contribute to retirement gifts or colleagues that are part of my direct team." "Thanks for including me although I really enjoy everyone on our team I have a personal policy of not contributing to gifts at work."

Sticky situation: You are once again, asked to buy a token treat for a colleague's, or friend's, child fundraising efforts.

• Read this previous blog post.

When in doubt, when your body is screaming "No" and your head is saying "Be careful, you should maybe say yes," ask for time to review the pros and cons for the two scenarios. Sometimes, all you need is to step away from the person that is making the request to analyze the possible outcomes. Once you are comfortable with your "No," inform the other. Remain tactful. Be brief. Don't over-explain. Conclude with an encouraging or supportive comment.

Saying "no" to others, is often times saying "yes" to you to maintain your integrity. Just politely say "no." You have the right to do so.

You have a sticky situation at work or at home? This is your forum. Write to Julie and she will reply promptly. Want more solutions to sticky situations? Go to Facebook, Twitter or order your autographed copy of Etiquette: Confidence & Credibility. Planning a conference? Julie happily travels coast to coast and beyond, to present customized activities. With Julie's help gone will be awkwardness, embarrassment and faux-pas.


6 Simple Ways Of Saying NO
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