How to say no effectively: request, interest, alternative

Being able to say 'no' effectively is important. Countless explicit and implicit requests are coming our way every day. By explicit requests I mean direct questions that we are asked, such as: "Could you do ...  for me?'' or "Is it okay if I ...'' By implicit requests I mean something more abstract, namely all the stimuli and triggers that ask for our attention. These can be all kinds of things such as e-mails that come in, interesting, exciting or disturbing news reports on websites or on the radio or TV, expressions on social media websites such as Twitter and Facebook, incoming text messages or Whats app messages, and even people passing by or sounds you hear.

We are bombarded with requests

If we responded to all those explicit and implicit requests, it would be impossible to concentrate on anything. We would no longer be able to set and focus on priorities and make our own choices. Only when we can say 'no' to some degree to the explicit and implicit requests that come our way can we work on and protect what is important to us. 

We can arm ourselves against implicit requests by consciously thinking about what is important and what deserves priority and by closing and concentrating. Things that can help with this are turning off your e-mail, your telephone, finding a quiet workplace so that you are not disturbed and the like (see also this message).

The importance of the issue and of the relationship

Being able to say 'no' to explicit requests is equally important. Unfortunately, it is quite difficult for many people. This is mainly due to the fact that when responding to a request, not only the importance of the substantive subject is involved, but also the importance of the relationship. The two dimensions are shown in the picture below, which also shows four ineffective and one effective way of saying no:

Strategy 1 and 2 don't work because either the relationship or the issue leads to it. Strategy 3 is actually intended to allow neither the relationship nor the issue to lead, but the result is often rather that both the relationship and the issue lead under it. If you avoid answering, this often arouses misunderstanding and irritation. The request will probably come to you again, so you will have to provide clarity at some point.
An eye for the issue and the relationship

Strategy 4 is a strategy that simultaneously gives the importance of the issue and the importance of the relationship the attention they deserve. This strategy (and also the above explanation of the 3 other strategies) is based on the work of William Ury (see my interview with him here) although I use some different terms and my own visualization in my explanation. With strategy 4 you think in terms of three main components: 1) the request (to which you want or must say no), 2) your interest (which is why you are going to say no), 3) a possible alternative. The picture below shows the relationships between those three components:

As the picture shows, the request and your interest do not match (hence the red cross). That is your reason for saying no. By the way, "Your interest" explicitly does not mean anything selfish or anti-social. You may very well find something important from a sense of responsibility for the whole. When saying no effectively, you do not say no bluntly, but try to justify as best you can why you say no by expressing your underlying interest as clearly as possible, and in positive terms. For example: “It is now very important for me to finish this job first because my customer is now urgently waiting for this. That is why I cannot help you directly now. ” By clearly motivating why you say no, you reduce the chance of relationship damage because the other person will probably understand you better and realize better that you are not saying no out of some blunt reluctance.

The third component is the possible alternative. As the picture shows (by means of the blue curls), the possible alternative meets both the request and your interests. By formulating a possible alternative, you serve the importance of the relationship and the issue even more. You show that you have no unwillingness and that you do have an eye for the interests of others. The trick, of course, is that when formulating your alternative, you do not forget to lose sight of your own interests. For example: “If you would like to help me now, I will finish this job earlier and I could help you later? Is that an idea? ”
Say no to protect what's important

Saying no is very important. Those who cannot say no cannot actually say yes to what is important to him or her. The way of saying no described here can help make your no clearer and more acceptable.



Anonymous said…
dag Coert, heel interessant ! Ik geloof dat er een plaatje mist. Kun je hier naar kijken? Ik wil graag anderen dit laten lezen. gr Eric Sulkers