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    Chapter 1 - Saying No and Giving Other Bad News Without Damaging the Relationship

    Learn to say “no” to the good so you can say “yes” to the best.
    —John Maxwell

    The worse the news, the more effort should go into communicating it.
    —Andrew S. Grove

    I will not take “but” for an answer.
    —Langston Hughes

    “No” is always an easier stand than “Yes.”
    —Rosabeth Moss Kanter

    Many a manager has planned a trip across country for a week simply to delay giving his staff bad news. Saying no to an idea, a proposition, or a request from a customer, salesperson, partner, or parent creates knots in the stomach and costs hours of sleep. And the damage done by the delivery can be far worse than the answer itself or the discomfort of the person giving the message. Saying no will seldom be easy. But with the following tips, you may find the task less painful and more productive than you imagined.

    Tip 1. Be Clear About Your Own Priorities.

    Some priorities stay on your front burner; you know you don’t want to be a part of this, and you know you do want to be a part of that. Your values constitute your basis for saying yes or no to every request for your help or your time. And for the bigger issues, you can ask the age-old question, “If I had only six months to live, would I take on this project?” That thinking will help you focus on the important, time-consuming, life-changing commitments. Unfortunately, everything else falls in between the definite yeses and the definite noes. If your most distressing indecisions about time and money come at work, take some time every few months to focus on your own career and personal goals. Write them down. That list will help you focus and weed out the requests that deserve a “no” response.

    Tip 2. Choose Consciously Among the Three Ways to Say No.

    You can say no with an uncaring attitude: “No way will I let you borrow my car. Go rent one yourself.” You can say no passively, hiding behind an excuse rather than a real reason. “I can’t. My manager has me so involved in another project that I can’t look up.” Or you can say yes and do no. That is, you can agree to do something and then not come through at the last moment. The last way is the easiest—at the time. But in the long run, you disappoint the person more deeply and often cause more severe problems than you would with an honest, earlier no.

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    Tip 3. Ask for Time to Think.

    Don’t say yes simply because you’ve been caught off guard and you can’t phrase the negative in a tactful, acceptable way. It’s perfectly acceptable to ask for time to think about your response—even if you know that you plan to say no: “Let me think about that and get back to you.” Noes rarely have to be immediate.

    Tip 4. Forewarn People When You Have Devastating News.

    When you’re delivering an unexpected bad-news message that will certainly be a shock to someone’s emotional system, warn that person by simply saying the words, “I’m going to have to give you some bad news.” Such an outright statement lets people prepare physically and emotionally for the upset. During this adjustment time, their bodies make the necessary preparation for handling the shock.

    Tip 5. When Writing, Be Positive or Neutral in Introducing the Bad News.

    When you find it necessary to write your “no” message, you do not have the benefit of the rapport established by personal contact—a warm smile and a firm handshake. When writing, begin by trying to establish that rapport by simply bringing up the topic in a neutral or positive way. If you’re going to have to tel a subordinate that you have decided not to grant him a transfer, you may begin with a neutral opening: “Bill, I’m responding to your request that we consider you for the opening in the La Jolla office.” This neutral opening of the topic sets the stage and a matter-of-fact tone.

    Tip 6. State the Reasons or Your Criteria for the No if You Are in a More Powerful Position Than the Other Person.

    If you want to help others understand your decision, give your reasons or criteria before you state the no. By the time they’ve heard your explanation, they’ll have already “read between the lines” to know that your no is coming at the end. But this arrangement softens the tone of your no and allows the other person to retain her composure and save face in making an appropriate, accepting response.

    Example: “In any transfer decision, we consider several things: tenure in their current position, performance in previous jobs, costs of relocation, and trained replacements. In your case, the cost of relocation has been of major concern.” By the time, you get to the no, the listener will probably have guessed the message that’s coming. But the decision will not sound so arbitrary and cold; the criteria explanation provides a cushion.

    Tip 7. Remember That a No Doesn’t Require a Reason.

    An explanation is not the same as an excuse. An excuse involves making up something that sounds logical but is not the real reason. An explanation includes your own choice and control about what the other person has asked. “Yes, we do have money in the budget for a few year-end bonuses. But I’ve allocated the money for additional training on our new equipment.” With this explanation, you haven’t shunned responsibility for the decision; you’ve just explained your refusal.

    People have a right to ask you to do almost anything—and you have a right to say no without explanation. Examples: “I’m sorry that I can’t explain my decision, but the answer is no.” “Under normal circumstances I’d be happy to help you, but this is a bad time for me.” “I can’t participate.” “I regret that I can’t help.” “I’ve decided that the trip would not be in my best interest.” “After careful thought, I’ve decided not to participate myself, but I wish you the best in the undertaking.”

  • About the Author

    Dianna Booher’s extensive and ongoing research and published works in the field of business communication and productivity serve as the foundation for over 40 books on communication skills training . Dianna has received the highest awards in the professional speaking industry, including induction into the CPAE Speaker Hall of Fame®. She is a member of the prestigious Speakers Roundtable. As a result of Dianna's work among top corporations on communication issues, Executive Excellence magazine has recognized Dianna on its list of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in America. Additionally, Successful Meetings magazine named Dianna on its list of 21 Top Speakers for the 21st Century! Dianna has been interviewed by Good Morning America, CNN, CNBC, USA Today, the Washington Post, New York Newsday, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Wall Street Journal Radio, National Public Radio, Bloomberg, Investors Business Daily, Fox Family Network, Reader's Digest, Working Woman, Industry Week, McCall's, Cosmopolitan, Success, Entrepreneur, among other national radio, TV, and newspapers. She holds a master's degree in English from the University of Houston.

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Confrontational Communication

Your success as a manager or supervisor will increase tremendously if you can skillfully deliver negative feedback with tact and respect for others’ dignity. Learn to offer constructive feedback while still keeping morale high on your team. The rules for management communications are changing rapidly with the adoption of new technology for communicating. This book is a handy management resource to communicate clearly, tactfully, and confidently in common problem situations. This series of quick tips is a credible guide to decisive communication, while also serving as a perfect resource for understanding the fast changing rules for mobile, social media and digital communications on the go. Excellent communication skills are a key factor in effectively managing and leading. This resource for managers and executives will take the guesswork out of how to deliver constructive feedback and any bad news to employees, customers, teams, and co-workers.

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