neeIn order to function well it is important to be able to say no effectively. Each day we are confronted with countless requests. Examples of such requests may be “Could you do this for me?”,  or “Is it okay if I… ?” Some request are a bit more subtle and implicit such as the expectation to respond to phone calls, e-mails, tweets, Facebook posts, etcetera. If we would respond to all these requests it would be impossible for us to get anything done which requires some concentrated effort. Only if we are able, to some extent, to say no to such requests and appeals we can protect and take care of what is important to us. We can protect ourselves against the constant flow of digital ‘requests’ by temporarily turning off our phones and computers. 

 

Saying no to explicit requests is equally important. Unfortunately, many people find it quite hard. This is because it is not only important to address the issue at hand but also to take into account the importance of the relationship you have with the person making the request. These two dimensions (based on work William Ury) are represented in the figure below which also shows three ineffective and one effective way of saying no.

4 x no

Strategy 1 and 2 do not work because either the relationship or the issue will suffer. Strategy 3 which is intended to prevent both types of harm, ironically usually results in both types of harm. Not responding usually leads to confusing and annoyance. Eventually the request will probably be repeated so that you will have be clear after all so it is probably better to do it right away.   Strategy 4, formulated by William Ury, is a strategy which both serves the interest of the issue and the relationship. With this strategy you think in terms of three components: (1) the request which you want to or have to say no to; (2) your interest: the reason why you are going to say no; (3) an alternative possibility. I made the visualization below to illustrate the relationships between those three components:

3 componenst of no

As the figure shows (the red cross) the request and your interest don’t fit with each other. That is your reason for saying no. I’d like to emphasize that ‘your interest’ does not necessarily refer to something selfish. It is quite possible to find something important because of your sense responsibility for something outside of yourself. In saying no effectively you do not bluntly say no but instead you try to explain your rationale as clearly and positively as you can. For example: “I am afraid I cannot do that task right now because my customer is waiting for this urgently now. By explaining your reason so clearly you diminish the chance of damage for the relationship because the other person will probably understand that you are not saying no out of some blunt unwillingness.   The third component is the possible alternative.

As the figure shows (through the blue symbol) the possible alternative is congruent with both the request and your interest. By formulating a possible alternative you support both the issue and the relationship. You show you are sympathic to the person and the request. Of course it is important, while offering an alternative suggestion, that you do not harm your interest after all. An example of an effective suggestion may be: “If you help me now I could help you later. Would that be a good idea?”   Being able to say no is quite important. The person who cannot say no can, in effect, also not say yes to what is really important to him or her.

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