Comments and observations on social and political trends and events.

Monday, December 31, 2007

How to say NO?

How do we say No? Why is it so hard to say for many of us? Is there a way of saying no that respects our interests while respecting those of others? Many of us feel uncomfortable telling people no so we take several ways of doing it. Probably the most common way is to avoid saying no by giving in, thus making us feel bad about doing so and begrudging the person who put us into that spot. As one who tests as an Amiable in Social Styles I know it’s hard for me.

On the other hand we all know people who have no trouble saying no and seem to relish in it with the sensitivity of brass knuckles. (Fortunately, this group seems to be a minority.)

Are these the only ways of handling saying no? No! (There, I said it!) William Ury, who has written a number of books on getting to yes [Getting Past No and Getting to Yes] and directs the Global Negotiation Project at Harvard University, tackles the flip side in The Power Of A Positive No.

His book lays out a three-step process consisting of 9 sub-steps. In essence his three steps are yes-no-yes. By that I mean:

  1. Prepare by expressing your interests,
  2. Deliver your no
  3. Follow through by offering a yes that stays true to your interests while acknowledging theirs.

Throughout the book Ury also offers tips on how to word your no. “I won’t be serving on the committee. Thank you for thinking of me.” “I’m saying No now. Thank you.” As for offering an alternative yes, Ury suggests making a proposal that gives the other person a chance to say no to you. The idea behind this is “As Churchill realized, showing respect comes not from weakness and insecurity, but rather from strength and confidence. Respect for the other flows directly from respect for self. You give respect to others not so much because of who they are but because of who you are. Respect is an expression of your self and your values."

This last step – offering a counter-proposal - might seem to be controversial but to me it ultimately makes sense especially for on-going relationships. This proposal might be as simple as saying, “Thanks for the offer to work on this project but my plate is full. Maybe next time?”

There is much more to The Power Of A Positive No than I can cover here. Truth be told, I don’t have the 9 complete steps memorized. Maybe if I took a course on the subject all 9 steps would stick. But I can attest to the effectiveness of packaging my no’s in the yes (to my interests)/no (declining to agree)/yes? (offering an alternative) has worked for me. Plus, Ury’s approach is based on maintaining your objectivity, which appeals to me. By doing so you can clearly express your interests while respecting the other party. Being a proponent of passionate objectivity, Ury’s approach to saying no gets a big yes.

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