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NO: The Most Difficult Word to Communicate

by Sarah Welch

“N. O.” Why can’t we just spit it out? These are two letters any two-year-old and most sixty-year-olds can string together with ease and a fair amount of boldness. But something happens to us between our toddler and golden years. By the time people reach their early teens or twenties, most will have either completely lost the ability to string together those two simple letters, or at least find them incredibly difficult to spit out without a whole lot of equivocating.

Saying no is vital to achieving a Buttoned Up life. Far from being a negative or bad word, the word no is essential to a sane existence. There are many reasons saying no is difficult. We’re programmed from an early age to do what we’re told, we get lots of positive reinforcement when we say yes, we don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, etc. If you’re suffering the consequences of too many yes’s and not enough no’s, here are some effective techniques for saying it gracefully.

Establish Policies. If you are frequently asked to do something, instituting rules or guidelines can make it easier to say no. This technique is effective for work-related requests, like contributing to a group gift at work, and personal requests, like volunteering at school.

Beg for Time and Ask Yourself Questions. Swap your “sure, no problem” for “that sounds really interesting; let me think about it and get back to you with an answer.” Then use the time to determine whether or not you want to accept the request.

Script Some “No” Responses. Sometimes it’s easier to have a canned response than to figure out how to respond appropriately in the moment. Since every person is unique and every situation different, it makes sense to have a few different scripts at the ready.
Find a Point of Compromise. Sometimes the best way to deliver a no is to suggest an alternative. Try offering to do something else or suggest an alternative due date that will make both you and the other person happy.

2011 PA Conference for Women speaker Sarah Welch is a “yo-yo organizer,” a seasoned entrepreneur and marketing executive. Welch prides herself on having mastered the art of managing multiple career opportunities as well as her busy family–all so she can make ends meet and chase her dreams. Prior to co-founding Buttoned Up, Welch was a New York advertising agency executive and entrepreneur.