How to say no and push back politely.

How to say no and push back politely.
March 1, 2023 Linda Murray

There’s an art to saying no and having your answer respected. The good news is that saying no is a skill you can learn. All it takes is practice and soon you’ll be comfortable and confident in the way you say it.

Why is it important to say no?

If you can’t say no, you can’t set boundaries. If you’ve ever felt you’ve been taken advantage of, you’ll understand what I mean. People will come to you if they see you as a pushover and they won’t respect your choice when you finally do say no to them. Saying no sets your ground rules and establishes boundaries for what you will and won’t accept. If you don’t learn to say no, you’ll be unlikely to get what you want out of life and career.

Dealing with the guilt.

When did we learn that other people’s priorities are more important than our own? It’s not true. Your needs and wishes are just as important. You have the same choices as everyone else. It’s your right to say no when you need to. The way people respond to your answer is not your responsibility. Ask yourself whether your reply was reasonable. Ask yourself what saying yes would cost you. Ask yourself if you’ve done something wrong in saying no. Rationalising your reply will help you ease any feeling of guilt. Practicing your ‘no’ response will gradually make you feel more content with your choice.

How to say no politely and maintain your boundaries.

These tips will help you say no in a way that won’t offend people and which will protect the boundaries you’ve set.

  1. Don’t be apologetic or defensive. When you say no, mean it. There’s a difference between saying “Sorry, I can’t help you” and being apologetic. The more you explain your reasons, the more you open yourself up to further approaches from the other person. Be clear, concise, and polite. Remember, ‘no’ is all you really need to say.
  2. Choose your words carefully. Here’s an example from a lecturer at Deakin Uni. “If you say, “I don’t have capacity” it’s a lot harder to challenge than “I can’t do it”, because that’s ambiguous,’ Caballero explains. ‘You have to be really clear so you don’t get that pushback.
  3. Be clear and specific. “Sadly, I have to decline” is better than “I don’t think I can.” If you would really like to say yes but don’t have the capacity, say something like, “I can’t do xxxx but I could do yyyy.” That way you are specific with the level of involvement you can make.
  4. Use a calendar. This works well for me. I can block out my work times and avoid interruptions. An online system like Calendly so people can see your availability. It helps them to understand how busy you are when they can see it for themselves, too.
  5. Be firm. Stand your ground when you say no. Avoid caving into the other person. If you give in, they will never accept that you really mean no when you say it in the future.

Saying no allows you to spend your time where you choose. That’s your right. Standing firm against pushback today makes you stronger and stronger over time and demonstrates that you mean what you say.

Need more help? Athena’s workshops cover the communication skills you need to help you present a clear and polite message. Make today the day you do something to take control of your year. Let’s chat.

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