Saying No Gracefully

Practice until your "no" is both polite and unequivocal.

Posted Jul 13, 2010

Some time ago I mentioned to a man I knew socially that I would enjoy getting to know him better on a one to one basis. He led me over to a quiet corner of the room, took my hand in his, and looked into my eyes. "You are one of the most .....(all sorts of lovely adjectives here) ... women I have ever met. Unfortunately for me, I seem to have this thing for skinny neurotic blondes (I am a round redhead of fine mental health). I wish it were different." I felt so special, so appreciated, that it was minutes before I realized that I had been turned down, and by a master.

 Whether we are talking about a business request or a personal one, closing a sale or asking for a date, how can one (of whatever gender) say no without hurting the other person's feelings. The fact is you usually can't. There is no way to say "no, I will not give you what you want from me" without at the very least inflicting disappointment, but you can minimize the damage.  Even if it's only the grocery store being out of your favorite breakfast cereal, no one likes to be told that what they want is not available.

If what you mean to say is "Perhaps, if the situation were different I might..." the words you're likely to choose will be different than if you're thinking "Do what? With you? Are you insane?" If someone pays you the compliment of wanting you, your company or your services, it's only fair that you return a kindness - not by giving what is asked for if you're not interested, but by making the asker glad s/he took the risk of asking.

Below are a few Guidelines to saying no gracefully:

* Self talk first. Ask yourself if there are any conditions which, if met, might change your mind and do you want to put them out there? ("If I weren't already scheduled for that evening.." or "If you weren't married...")

* Position yourself within eye level and within touching distance. The blow of bad news can be softened somewhat by a touch on the arm or hand. This is not flirting, it's compassion

 * Use "I" speak: "I feel" rather than "You make me feel". Saying something positive or what you do like about this person or interaction is helpful: "I've enjoyed working with you in the past, however...."

* Say no clearly and unequivocally - no whining, no coquettish smiles. (If what you really mean is maybe, then say something like "Not now. Perhaps some other time.") If you know there is no way you want to do business (or pleasure!) with the one who's asking, then stringing along is just not playing fair. "I wish I could but I just can't."

* Hear the other person out if a convincing argument is presented, even if seems like a pushy sales pitch, and then repeat your refusal. If the other person becomes overly insistent, simply repeat your refusal more firmly. There is no need to explain yourself beyond "No, I'm sorry, but I just can not."

* Allow the asker his/her dignity. After all, that person took the risk. Acknowledge that, and the other person by saying something nice they can take away from the encounter along with that awful feeling of rejection.

* Do not say "I'll call you" and not follow through. If you really want to salvage or create some sort of relationship here than it's up to you to make the next offer. If your private wish is that this person would disappear from your world forever, don't imply any future possibilities.

* If the person actually touches you or grabs hold of your body without your consent, all politeness bets are off. "Stop it!" clearly and loudly, and walking away will cover most such situations.

* If you find it just too difficult to say "No, I'm sorry" and sound like you mean what you say, practice in the mirror until your no is both polite and unequivocal. You will be respected for it.

@copyright Isadora Alman. All rights reserved