We’ve established when it is generally acceptable to say “No” at work; now let’s focus on the ever-important “how to”.
As always with assertive communication, view the situation from the perspective of the other individual. How would you want to be told “No”? If you’re like most, you’d want to be told “No” with respect and honesty. You wouldn’t want to be given excuses, you wouldn’t want your request ignored, and you wouldn’t want a harsh response. Consider the following guidelines for constructing an appropriate “No”, no matter the circumstance.
Tips for Saying “No” with Respect:
- Say “No” face-to-face when possible. An email or text message may be misinterpreted, and your assertive body language will demonstrate you are secure in your decision and not angry.
- If you’re considering saying “No” but you’re not sure how to do so, tell the individual you will think about it and get back to him. Compose a reply and respond in a timely manner.
- Provide a brief explanation, not a lengthy or detailed one, for your “No”. “I can’t unfortunately. This week is very busy.”
- It’s often best to give the facts. If you’re asked to assist with a new project, but your time is already monopolized with current projects, simply respond with that truth. If it’s your boss asking, make sure to find out her priorities. If her priority is the new project, ask her which tasks you can temporarily relinquish.
- Propose an alternative to the request when appropriate; ensure your alternative is something you are willing to see through. Your coworker wants to grab lunch with you and you have no interest? Tell him the truth (you need the downtime of lunch by yourself, you already have lunch plans, or you aren’t interested today), and then add an alternative. “Today doesn’t work well for me, but please join Sharrie, Juan, and me for lunch on Friday if you’re able.”
- Determine personal boundaries and state your boundaries as reasoning for the “No”. Examples: “Thanks for thinking highly of my web design skills. I know you want my help with your daughter’s school project, but I’ve already decided I don’t provide web design assistance on other’s personal projects. It takes up too much of my free time.” “I know you want me to exaggerate the numbers on the tax form, but I’ve already decided I will always remain honest.” “I know you want to trade shifts, but I’ve already decided I’m not going to pick up any weekend shifts. The weekends are reserved for my family.”
- Unless you’re being asked to perform a visual task, refrain from using your visual impairment as an excuse.
A respectful “No” is a tool worth sharpening. Its proper use will protect your sanity, free time, goals, and boundaries. But watch out, because its inappropriate use can wound your relationships at work. You can’t simply say “No” to your essential job functions, your boss’ priorities, or to being a team player; you would quickly find yourself unemployed. So, establish your goals, priorities, and boundaries (to include thorough work, undertaking your employer’s priorities, and helping your team when appropriate), and use your “No” to keep you on track to following through with them.
If you are a teacher of students who are blind or visually impaired, utilize the Assertive Training Lesson Series for related instructional strategies.