Rephrasing No

Posted on Posted in Business Etiquette Workshop

By Rose Murdock – Learning to rephrase no is a valuable lesson for women who want to progress in the workplace.

Business Woman Looking On Option And Select No Decision Isolated

Most women were brought up believing that being liked was important. We were taught to please and to be good girls, agreeable and helpful. For many of us, saying no goes against everything that was bred into us as little girls. No wonder it’s not easy for us, especially at work where it may be regarded as unhelpful, rude and confrontational, and where it may damage relationships and even limit the chance for recognition or promotion.

As women, we tend to agree to things to please others, little realising that saying yes all the time signals to others that we value our own time less than we value theirs. However subtly, it shows that we don’t respect ourselves as much as we ought – and therefore why should anyone else respect us?

The woman who is in the office long after everyone else has gone home is the woman who can’t say no. She’s still there because she’s either doing someone else a favour or she’s catching up on her own work because she was too busy helping others during the course of the day. There’s another possibility: she’s still there because she’s disorganised and inefficient.

Being this person doesn’t earn you respect. It makes you likeable, but if you want to progress at work it is far more important that your managers and colleagues respect you than like you. Not understanding this is what holds women back.

Consider the other cost of saying yes out of guilt when you should say no. Given the demanding pace of our multi-tasking modern lives, taking on the obligations that rightfully belong to others means that we end up carrying unnecessary stress. Meeting their commitments eats into our own work time and has knock-on effects into our leisure, sleep, exercise and family time, even as it increases our blood pressure.

Saying no, on the other hand, puts us in control of our lives and empowers us, yet it is a skill that plenty of women struggle to develop. Think of it as rephrasing no, rather than just flat out refusing to help. Here are two golden rules:

  1. Avoid defensive phrases such as, ‘I’m not sure…” or “I don’t think I will be able…”. Be definitive so that you’re making a statement which puts people on notice that your time matters too.
  2. Avoid detailed explanations or justifications of why you’re saying no. You shouldn’t feel that you owe anyone an explanation.

If you’re still struggling to get that powerful little word out, try these alternative phrases. Make them work by walking away the moment you’ve uttered them so that there’s no chance of a discussion.

  • Usually I’d love to help, but right now I can’t.
  • I cannot commit to that at the moment.
  • I’ve got too much on my plate right now.
  • It’s not a good time at the moment.
  • I’m right in the middle of a project.
  • I’m not the best person to ask for help with this; why don’t you ask…
  • Let me think about it and I’ll get back to you. (You need to be quite specific with yourself if you use this phrase because you don’t want to be held responsible for a delay, nor do you want thinking about it to be taken as a yes. Go back the next day and use one of the phrases above.)

What we need most of all to understand is that saying no is about being assertive rather than aggressive, and assertiveness is what gets us where we’re going.

What is your experience of saying no. Do you have any tips to share? If so, please comment below. Thanks!


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