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The graceful art of saying “no” – part 2

“The right no spoken at the right time can change the course of history” Greg McKeown


In my previous blog I introduced the idea that saying no is more than just a skill to learn. It starts with having a very clear purpose which gives you the confidence that you are saying no for the right reasons.

It all starts with asking yourself these three questions:


  1. What is important to me about _______ ?
  2. What do I want in this area of my life?
  3. Will saying yes to this request take me closer to achieving that?


When you have clarified your purpose and intention you have a barometer against which you can gauge your willingness to invest time, energy and attention into an activity, task, project or relationship.


When you know that the answer to a request is “no” that is when graceful art is required.


The fact that this is an art means it requires some practice. There is no script or guaranteed process which will always work, there is an element of needing to flex and adapt depending on the situation and the person making the request. However, the 3 principles are the same.


  1. Separate the decision from the relationship
  2. Be clear, don’t hedge
  3. Choosing no doesn’t have to mean saying no


1. Separate the decision from the relationship. 

This the one that most often catches us out. We fear the impact of saying no on the other person or on our relationship with them. For me, this appeared as misguided loyalty. Often I’d say yes because of a sense of the history I had with that person and of not wanting to let them down.  For some people there is a power play going on which means we feel we can’t say no to that person.

The skill is in being able to focus on two things; the request and your decision. Taking a step back from the situation and the emotions is an important way to get perspective. It can help to imagine stepping into someone else’s position, a neutral observer. Notice what they can see that you can’t because you are too close to it.


2. Be clear, don’t hedge.

Saying no gracefully means being clear, stating your decision and the reasons for it and ending with a full stop. What we sometimes find ourselves doing is blurring the edges by saying “well maybe I could…..”, “let me see what I can do”. This immediately undermines our credibility and makes it easier for us to be manipulated in the future. I know this to be true because that is precisely what used to happen to me. Looking back now I realise that in my attempt to be helpful and easy to work with I diminished my power and I was taken advantage of a few times. Saying no gracefully but confidently earns respect and means people know where you and they stand.


3. Choosing no doesn’t have to mean saying no.

At the heart of all of this is the decision you make, the choice to say yes or no. When you choose no what it means is you are clear that you are not going to do what the other person is requesting but you may still be able to be of service. For example:


  •  “no, I can’t meet that deadline but I can have it done by xxx”.
  •  “I can’t help but I can ask xxx if they can help you”
  •  “I won’t be able to do xyz for you but I can help out by doing a and b”


Pause for a moment and consider the value of saying no gracefully to you. What would that mean in terms of time, energy, attention and self-confidence?


Practice is key so identify an opportunity to practice this in the next week. If you’d like to test it out in a safe environment first, drop me a message or send me an email – susan@sgdevelopmentsolutions.com – and we can have the conversation to help you shape it into a graceful no you are confident to deliver.


And if you missed The graceful art of saying no – part 1, click here.



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