How to Say No Nicely

 In Career Tips, LinkedIn

We live in a world where can-do attitudes and positive psychology abound. Everybody is hoping that we will be positive and cheerful on tap. If we are competent as well, how fantastic is that? We are the archetypal good employee. Even those of us who might fit that characterisation sometimes, if not always, must wonder why we do so much and get so much more piled on us. When we ponder that question of why, we begin to realise the importance of saying no to stop demand swamping the supply of our labour.

If we’re not careful and we get out of balance we can lose the vitality and the positive attitude of mind that we wish to display. So what is it that I need to do in order to protect myself, to retain all of those good employee attributes and to not become over-tired, frustrated and angst-ridden?

The old adage of ask a busy person if you want something done is really true. When you scrape beneath the saying’s surface, you notice that things get done because you’re asking someone who has knowledge of the relationships within an organisation. They are inevitably well organised people. They don’t take extended chat breaks. They just get on with what it is they know they have to do. The result of that is that you get people coming towards you all of the time, wanting your help to progress a task or to further a relationship that is for the common good.

One way is to say no nicely is to not say “no” but to say “yes, but… “. You do this by ensuring people give you what you need to do the task in the right way. Make them take responsibility for their part of the task. Another way to achieve a similar end is to not let them off the hook when it comes to briefing. Get them to give you a good briefing as opposed to a partial one.

Underlying saying no nicely is behaving in a way where you don’t have to say no at all. It is completely possible for you to exist as the busy person who wants people to conform to your way of doing things. Additionally, you want to be clear with people about time and priority boundaries. How important is what they’re asking you to do? Let people know that if they’ve got something important that needs a quick turnaround, they need to give you the appropriate amount of lead time. Be rigorous around making people understand their part in what it is they want you to do.

There are occasions where you’ll have to give a straight “no”. Make the reasons why clear. You may need to say “no” but if you make it clear what the person could have done better it will be the only time you will need to say no. Shakespeare had a phrase for it – being cruel to be kind. Sometimes you have to be tough in order to have the type of civil and respected relationship that people deserve, particularly when they are the archetype of a good employee.

By Position Ignition ( and the Career Ignition Club (, the UK’s leading career change and career development company and platform. Also the author of 125 LinkedIn Job Search Tips ( Follow @PosIgnition for more help with your career challenges.

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