How to Soften the Blow of a No (And Still Be Taken Seriously)

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The following post was written by Deborah Grayson Riegel from Talk Support.  Talk Support helps busy professionals make big presentations and have tricky conversations with less stress and more success, especially when time is tight and stakes are high. Whether it is a business presentation, an important negotiation, or just polishing up your communication skills, our workshops and coaching can help you, your team or organization reach those important goals.

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How to Soften the Blow of a No (And Still Be Taken Seriously)

At some point in your life, you learned that “no means no.” If you had parents or are a parent (that’s just about all of us, right?), you’ve heard or uttered this phrase at least once: “No…because I said so!” And surely you’ve been privy to the idea that “‘no’ is a complete sentence.

If we’re going to be grammatically nitpicky, “no” actually isn’t a complete sentence, but it can feel like a life sentence to the teenager we’ve told can’t go out on a Saturday night, or to the direct report who won’t be getting a raise, or to the interviewee who didn’t get the job. “No” feels rejecting and like a door slamming closed. And while the no may be “just business,” it tends to feel deeply personal.

That makes saying no hard for both parties. The person who was told no may feel sad, mad, frustrated, resentful, anxious, embarrassed and more, and the person who had to deliver the news may feel any or all of those emotions, too. These feelings are hard to manage in personal relationships, tricky to manage in professional relationships, and can mean the death of a client or customer relationship. What’s surprising is how hard saying no is for Americans, where our culture supports direct communication. In fact, in my work coaching non-native English speakers in communication and presentation skills for the Western market, I often find that convincing someone from an indirect culture (such as China’s) to say no is an odyssey as long and winding as the Great Wall.

But whether we’re naturally direct (and damn proud!) or likely to take a more circuitous approach, we all could use a strategy for those times when saying no is what’s called for, but damaging the relationship isn’t. And while you can’t control the other person’s reaction to the no, you can control how much consideration and respect you put into your delivery.

Here’s a three-step script for you to adapt: (click to continue reading…)




Deborah Grayson Riegel, MSW, PCC, CEO & Chief Communication Coach, is an internationally recognized expert in presentation and interpersonal communication skills, and has coached and trained teams and professionals from: American Express; Dell; IBM; Monster Worldwide, Nokia, Novartis, NASDAQ, Pfizer, Toyota and the United States Army. Deborah is a visiting Professor of Executive Communications at the Beijing International MBA (BiMBA) Program of Peking University, China, where she trains and coaches international business leaders from multinational corporations in the art and science of presentation skills, business writing, and executive presence for a growing global marketplace. Deborah is a Lecturer of Management Communication at Wharton.

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