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How to Say No by Saying Yes

Thursday, January 21, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

(Photo: Tamie Snow)

It is never easy to tell someone “no.” You are never sure how they will react. They may lose control, they may get angry or they may loose motivation feeling like nothing they ever do is right. Fortunately there is a way to say “no” by saying “yes.”

Have you ever tried telling a three year old he can’t have a piece of candy? If you tell him “no” he might throw a tantrum kicking and screaming on the floor. If you tell him, “I understand you would like a piece of candy. Once your dinner is finished I will be happy to get it for you.” By responding in this manner you have said “no,” by saying “yes.”

Now let’s say a member of your team walks into your office and wants to expense an elaborate trip to secure a new client. Unfortunately you don’t have the budget for such an extravagance. You hate to say “no” to new business, especially in this economic climate, so you say, “I understand you are saying this trip may secure the deal with this new customer. Currently our budget is very tight. What are some other thoughts we should consider in acquiring their business?” At this point you have engaged the employee looking at alternate solutions to the same situation allowing you to steer them away from one idea without having to say “no” and directing them to a more reasonable solution where you can say, “yes.”

This approach is called a reflective response. This type of response allows you to disarm a potential situation by clearly communicating with the requestor.

Here are some tips which can be utilized in a reflective response:

  • Listen to what is being requested.
  • Reflect their request by using phrases like, “It sounds as if you mean…,” “I understand you are saying…,” “In other words….”
  • You may need to further clarify what they are saying by asking non-threatening questions.
  • Check to ensure the message is accurate getting their buy-in with a “yes.”
  • Be a transparent with the requestor as to the reasoning this may not be the best solution.
  • Refrain from actually saying, “no” or other derivatives of the word.
  • Engage the requestor by looking for alternatives.
  • Redirect the requestor to a viable solution best fitting the needs of those involved.

The reflective response allows you to communicate your respect of the person you are in conversation with and concern for the situation they have brought to you.

Another slightly different approach is the “yes-no-yes” approach.

Take the scenario above with the three year old asking for candy. Instead of saying, “no” to a piece of candy, you could say, “I think candy is a great idea, let’s finish our dinner and we will both have a piece.”

In the office scenario of an elaborate trip, you could say, “I like it! The budget is pretty tight right now, how about this…”

With the yes-no-yes approach it allows you a way to offer your understanding yet still communicate a “no” response in a direct fashion without delving into all the details and reflection.

Some people need a little extra caring attention while others are direct and to the point. Use whichever method best fits the situation and the person you are working with. Utilizing these approaches, lightens the blow of a harsh “no” and allows those involved to be responsive and sensitive to an otherwise tough situation.

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  1. The FonZ
    Thursday, January 21, 2010 at 2:55 AM


    Good advice. Is there any situation at all that we can or we must say NO ?

    • Jason Christensen
      Thursday, January 21, 2010 at 3:50 PM

      Great question! The concepts in this article certainly lighten the blow of a harsh “no” answer, but there are definitely circumstances where a “no” or even an emphatic “NO” are needed. It is best to use your insight of the person you are communicating with as well as the particular situation to determine the most fitting approach.

  1. Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 3:09 AM

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