Overcoming the Discomfort of Delivering and Receiving a “No”

May 2022

Boston Terrier resting

“No,” I said, followed by a litany of reasons about why not: “I’m on a deadline … just too busy … there’s a complicated photo shoot in San Diego today and I need to be on-call for the photographer, plus I just don’t feel like going for a walk now.” He pawed at my shoe, lifted his head slowly, and flashed his bulging Boston Terrier eyes. My dog clearly understands a commanding “no.” What he doesn’t understand is the long-windedness that trailed after that.

Why am I compelled to explain my reasons for a no … and to a dog? Perhaps he’s the single creature I interact with during my workday and I’m craving a chat, or I need to flex my no muscle strength because saying no is a critical part of a successful life strategy—in the workplace and personal dealings.

The healing power of no

When your gut says no to a request, but your ego says yes, think of Warren Buffett’s suggestion: “We need to learn the slow ‘yes’ and the quick ‘no.’” Your impulse to say yes without thoughtful consideration may be due to a fear of being socially unaccepted, an attempt to avoid conflict, not wanting to hurt someone, or being rejected yourself.

When your answer is no, ditch the guilt (you don’t need to please everyone), and embrace your thoughtful and healthy decision. Delivering a no takes focus on what is important to you. Give yourself time to assess a request and respond authentically with your needs prioritized. Those needs may include:

  • Bolstering stability by reducing stress
  • Maintaining energy
  • Promoting self-care
  • Setting relationship boundaries
  • Gaining confidence and self-esteem
  • Maintaining integrity
  • Honoring time

When delivering a rejection

Offer a personalized reply so that the requester receiving a “no” feels respected. Using a friendly tone, people will better understand your priorities when you are clear on them. A timely response is considerate and helps maintain your integrity (your brand). You are not obligated to apologize or go into great detail when delivering a rejection.

“Not at this time”

There are situations where you can change your mind and offer a yes at a later time. Explain to the requester that you have a change in plans or more knowledge has come to light opening up an opportunity for a yes.

Handling a rejection

For every good reason you choose to say no to a request, have the confidence to accept a rejection directed at you. When faced with dismissal, ego can derail your acceptance of a no and a graceful response. When rejection happens, try the following tips:

  • Take time to understand the reason given (if offered)
  • Process your emotions
  • Practice some self-care and self-affirmations
  • Reach out to your support
  • Be kind to yourself
  • Hatch a Plan B and move forward in another direction

I recently advised an overextended friend to place a Stickie note on her mirror saying, “Me First.” It’s a reminder to be thoughtful and realistic about your capacity in the workplace or your personal life. I have done the same and continue to practice a well-considered “no” when warranted.

Thank you for reading this.

Maureen Joyce