How To Say No Without Pissing Anyone Off


Time is precious. And yet it has never has it been harder to find than in this manic, hyper-connected 21st century world of ours. The business day of delivering products, services, and company strategy now includes fending off a steady stream of unwanted requests. Not only are they a major distraction, they also devour our time and energy.

The Internet has aggravated this problem with its easy, unfiltered access to everyone with few consequences for inconsiderate, invasive behavior. Without us asking for them, in poor pitch letters, requests for introductions, product offers, solicitations for coffee, or requests for free advice over wine.

We fancy ourselves as “can do" professionals, team players who power through obnoxious situations, preferably politely and respectfully. That's a salutatory goal, but a polite reply doesn't seem to translate into a firm “no" that sends the requester away.

Or can it?

The Manners Movement:

Emily Post, the grand dame of social etiquette, came out of Victorian times with a set of rules that everyone adopted to “fit into" society. She was not just about which fork to use, when to write a thank you note, and who gets introduced first. Her rules provided guidance on how to navigate interpersonal situations with grace and respect.

While her classic tome is still in print, it no longer enjoys its wide acclaim. In the 21st century, the individual reigns supreme. Self-interested behavior is not only acceptable but fair game. Old fashion codes of conduct have been abandoned with little to replace them. The egregious behavior of our national politicians reflects this trend.

To protect the quality of our work day, we must manage the self-centered, unaware oafs inside and outside of the office whose demand for our time makes our lives miserable.

Ten Tips For Saying “No":

Below are tips and tips for saying “no" effectively to various types of colleagues, managers and vendors. Given different personalities, one size does not fit all. Responses must be tailored to the person and circumstances. In all these situations, a gracious, respectful response will increase the likelihood of protecting you from criticism and further unwanted requests.

In other words, think of good manners as a strategy, rather than a capitulation.

1. The Natterer: They talk compulsively, usually about some mindless dilemma of their own making. They are not interested in solving their problems, but rather in consuming your attention. Validate their concern, saying with a sympathetic smile, “It sounds like you have a real problem there. Good luck with that." Then return to your work. If they persist in pestering you, try, “Sorry, but I need to get this done." If that fails, stand up, and say, “Excuse me, I have to go." Smile, say no more, and leave.

2. The Office Operator: This office classic always has an agenda, and they want you to serve it. They come at you with an oily, “Hey! How are you?" They add an empty social comment, then get with their real purpose. “I hear you are buddies with [someone important to their cause]. Do you think you could ask them to..." This operator has built no political capital with you. Your response? “I'd like to help, but I have no dog in this hunt, and she knows it. You might try [name]."

3. The Passive Aggressive: They respond to your denial of their request with a sarcastic, “Oh, well, I guess you are super busy." Your best response is a level, “'Yes, I am." Resist biting on further remarks, it really won't do you any good.

4. The Digital Natterer: These people cannot end an online conversation, filling the air with rejoinders. “Yes, but can you believe..." It's up to you to close the conversation. “Hey, gotta go, or the bailiff will be at the door." Then stop answering. If it's important, they will try another channel. You can decide whether it's worth it to you.

5. The User: You may or may not know these people from outside your company. Either way, it's important to draw a boundary. “I'd liked to see you, but have no bandwidth. When I do, I'll let you know." If they come back, retain control of the conversation by repeating your position. Then end the exchange.

6. The Personalizer: No matter what you say, they hear any comment as a reflection on their self-worth. “No" is a rejection on their personhood. Preface any “no" by validating their worthiness. “I really appreciate you asking. Sounds like a great project. Unfortunately, I can't help with this one because of a screaming deadline on [project name]."

7. The Bully: These aggressive personalities succeed through intimidation. “No" can feel dangerous. After a healthy pause to break the intensity, you say, calmly, without a hint of hostility, “Sorry, good idea, but I can't help you with that." They don't expect that type of response and hate conflict. This works best when you add an objective business reason that does not reflect on them personally.

8. The Campus Pet: These people win a “yes" because they have gained support from the “right" people for their commitment to them and their own can-do attitude. They are also politely toxic. “No" to them must include a good business reason that keeps them looking good. “I don't have the bandwidth right now, but have you considered talking with [name]? They would be perfect for that."

9. The Debater: Unlike the bully who hits and runs, the debaters need to prevail. There is no winning except on their terms. Your best move is to not engage. If they start up, raise your hand and say, “Sorry, I can't get into this right now." Then stop talking.

10. The Needy Person: A variation on The Natterer, their requests are probably gratuitous. What they need is validation—something a workplace is not geared to provide. When the whining begins, gently say you can't help them, and wish them good luck.

This piece was originally published on June 4, 2017.

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How To Treat Yourself Like A Queen

Sometimes the person you have to stand up to is you! There I was, rewatching the Miss Universe 2019 competition. Which I do for inspiration from time to time. (No, seriously!) There is something about seeing women on stage, in full-on glam mode, and speaking with confident assuredness that really lights my fire!

I have seen this Zozibini Tunzi of South Africa win this crown so many times before, but something about this particular viewing, her delivery or her words, touched something inside me a little differently. At that moment, I truly believed, with complete conviction, that she lives what she speaks.

The announcement was made, the audience cheered, and the crown was awarded. The light was dazzling,, she looked stunning, almost blessed. The judges made the right call with 2019's queen.

Reflecting On Myself

Suddenly, the YouTube video ended. And I was left looking at a black screen. In the darkness of that screen, I saw my reflection and I began assessing what I saw, asking myself, "What have I been doing with my life?" It may seem like an overly dramatic question, but at that moment, I had to ask myself seriously… What have you done? The fact that I couldn't come up with a solid, confident answer gave my inner-cynic license to quickly spiral into self-criticism.

This went on for quite some time, until I got up. I stood up and walked to my mirror to have some serious one-on-one "Queen Talk." I needed to get out of that self-critical mindset, and I know that physical movement is something that help disrupt a way of thinking. I needed to remind myself of who I really was. The negative feelings I was experiencing at that moment were not reality.

Here are a few reminders for whenever you need some Queen Talk!

1.) Comparison is truly the thief of joy.

This saying feels like a cliché. That is, until it's applicable to you. At that moment, this "cliché, becomes self-evident. Comparing myself to someone on a stage with years of experience in an area I know nothing about is not only unfair but straight-up mean. A part of my comparison comes from me wondering, "Would I have the ability, if put in that position, to perform at such a level?" The answer is totally and without question, yes. I excel in the field I work in now, and I know that if I put that same energy towards something else, with practice, I could do just as well. No joy can come from comparing yourself to someone in a completely different field!

2.) Never forget the blessings that have been bestowed upon you.

Every single day, I am blessed to have the opportunity to wake up with all ten fingers and toes and choose to create the kind of life I want to live. There is so much power in that alone, but sometimes it's easy to take it for granted. Let us not forget those who are unable to make that same decision every day of their lives.

3.) Appreciate how far you have come!

I've been very intentional for some time to be kinder and gentler to myself. I need to realize that I am human. Being human means that I will not know everything, and I will continue to make mistakes.But I must let go of the need to always be right. I feel empowered when I can see the growth that I've made, regardless of the mistakes that may come in the future. I don't react to every little thing that bothers me, because I have learned boundaries when it comes to dealing with others and myself. I truly value my time and my energy, and, for that, I am proud.

4.) You Can Be Who You Want To Be

If you can see it in your mind, you can achieve it in reality. I saw myself when I looked at the women on stage, when she smiled, the way she talked, her elegant walk. For a moment, in my self-criticism spiral, I forgot that we are all connected. Debasish Mridha has said "I may not know you, but I don't see any difference between you and me. I see myself in you; we are one." I will not sit in the mentality of lack, there is more than enough opportunity and good fortune to go around for everyone. Her win was not a loss for me, but it can be a nudge from the universe for me to go ahead and dream big!

This Queen Talk was not easy. There may have been some tissues and tears involved but giving myself an honest yet compassionate talk is sometimes what I need to bring myself out of some bad head space. In these moments of doubt, you truly need to be your own best friend.When times get rough, criticism won't always come from outside sources. How you speak about yourself internally is crucial to how you see and feel about yourself. As Beyoncé once sang, "I've got Me, Myself, and I." We must put forth every effort to be there for ourselves. I look forward to more Queen Talks when some negative emotions arise. I am grateful for the person I am today, but I am excited to see the women I become.