Celebrities and other well-known figures have been chatting on social media lately about how, “No is a complete sentence.” While I agree with the intended spirit of this message, a message intended to empower and to reinforce that we don’t need to explain our choices, I believe that we ought not to embrace that message wholeheartedly.

 As a business professional, there will be times when you need (want) to say “no” and it is helpful to know how to do so clearly and without guilt, while still coming across as someone concerned about the relationship. Simply saying “no” may be clear and concise, but it certainly doesn’t do much to preserve relationships, garner respect, or send the message that you are a team player.  Here is a simple four-step model to say no more effectively:

  1. Acknowledge the request – “I know this article is important and you would like some help.”
  2. Decline (be clear and don’t use the word “sorry”) – “I am not able to help you at this time.”
  3. Give a reason (one will do) – “I am under a deadline myself.”
  4. Suggest an alternative (this clinches your team player status) – “I’ve found this website to be helpful on similar projects.”

Practice using the pattern in low-risk situations so that you are comfortable using it in the workplace. For example, try it with your children at the store.

I know you want the expensive video games. We won’t be buying them today because they are not in the family budget. You may spend x amount.

High caliber communicators know how to set limits and boundaries. They are able to say “no.” Obviously, this approach isn’t the only way to say “no.” However, it is a useful language pattern to have so that you don’t babble or over-explain (a credibility killer), so that you don’t feel guilty, and still come across as a team player.

For more tools to help you say “no” with confidence,  listen to Pamela’s on-demand webinar “Say Yes to No” available a la cart or as part of the Administrative Assistant Advantage webinar series.

Pamela Jett is a communication skills and leadership expert who knows that words matter! In her keynote presentations, workshops, books and online learning programs, she moves beyond communication theory into practical strategies that can be implemented immediately to create the kind of leadership, teamwork, and employee engagement results her clients want.