Saturday, February 21, 2009

How to Politely Say No

I was at a meeting seated one row in front of Lyn, a trainer/consultant with a lot of clout at the host company. She knows the ins and outs of the company including every little tittle and nuance. She notices everything and everybody. There's not much that gets past her.

I was immediately drawn to Lyn because she carried herself like a lady. Her positive, thoughtful and considerate comments were charming, modest and made everyone feel at ease. She struck me as a master negotiator because she has an almost hypnotic ability to persuade you to let your guard down. She pounded you with kindness.

When I spoke with Jacqueline, a close associate of Lyn's, she claims, "It's almost impossible to turn Lyn down." That says it all. I knew she was right. I had to keep my distance because Lyn was constantly searching for volunteers to serve at her company's programs.

Do you need to keep your distance?

One of the most important strategies that will save you time, headaches and your sanity is knowing how to kindly and politely say "no." Saying "yes" is easy. There are no hurt feelings. Everyone is happy. Except, maybe you.

Here's how to avoid this insanity...

1) Become a frugal time merchant. This is not about buying or selling your time. I'm suggesting deliberately being more respectful of your time. Treat time as something expensive and you'll always have more of it.

Because time doesn't cost much up front, we become the biggest wasters of this precious resource. We end up filling our time with non-essential activities. Then we wonder where the time has gone. And then we end up making up for lost time. When you've successfully made the best use of time, and there is spare time, that's when you can fill your schedule with minor activities. The secret to owning your time is separating the major and minor activities. Because once time gets away-it's impossible to get it back.

2) The Campbell's Soup response. I'm implying that you have a "canned" response ready at all times. Something that says "no" in a nice way. Something that says, "I can't commit to it, but if things change, I'll let you know."

Let's face it, people will ask, even pressure you to attend events and for favors that may not be for your highest good. Then we beat ourselves up for agreeing. Yet why did we agree in the first place? The next time this happens-look them dead in the eye and get out your favorite canned response and serve it. If you do this a few times, they'll get the hint. This is one surefire way to preserve your sanity.

3) Offer solutions. When you must turn someone down, you don't have to appear as the bad guy... or gal. This would disturb the relational harmony. Someday you may need a favor. The tricky part is to merge saying no: with a smiley face.

I agreed to do a short speech for Kathy. Because of certain company guidelines, she had to find a replacement. Then she tried to keep me in the picture by securing me to be her backup speaker. She cleverly proposed, "I just secured another speaker. Tommy, would you still be a backup, in case of laryngitis?"

But I saw through this charade. She wanted me around to serve in another capacity. Which was fine, but in the past this particular event was not the best use of my time and I preferred not to be there. I suggested, "Congratulations! The prescription for laryngitis is something called a microphone. I'm sure you have enough pull to fill that prescription."

Although that's probably not the right cure for laryngitis, it was a witty response to a clever question. Offering a solution will make you appear as someone who is concerned. Currently Kathy and I have a budding professional relationship. She constantly promotes me among her peers. You can't be all things to all people. You'd go nuts. Be kind and considerate when you decline and you'll benefit from budding relationships.

Tommy Yan helps business owners and entrepreneurs make more money through direct response marketing. He publishes Tommy's Tease weekly e-zine to inspire people to succeed in business and personal growth. Get your free subscription today at

By Tommy Yan

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