Accessible version of Before you say no

The accessible version of the Before you say no learning module.

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Before you say no will help you to learn how to:

  • Avoid people feeling dismissed or disrespected
  • Discover the underlying need in any request
  • Give people what they need without necessarily giving what they ask for
  • Build better relationships

To access the non-conforming version of this module, see Before you say no.

Below is the transcript for the Before you say no YouTube video.


Saying ‘no’ to people can cause them to feel dismissed or disrespected. By understanding their reason for asking in the first place, you may be able to still meet their need without necessarily saying yes to their original request. Don’t assume you understand why someone is making a request. It may seem obvious, but they may be struggling with something you know nothing about. When people make suggestions or requests, they are often trying to satisfy an underlying need. Ask why they’re making the request and how it will help them. It might not seem like it at first, but when you take time to dig a little deeper, you’ll be more likely to come up with a way forward that works for everyone. Once you understand what they need, you can ask them for alternative ways to meet that need, rather  than just saying yes to their original request. You don’t always need to say yes or no to one of the alternatives right away. You can let them know you need some time to reflect. Let them know when you’ll have an answer for them. Think about the ways different alternatives could impact others. Is it fair to all concerned? Will it create a burden on others? Does it require the effort of others? Consider whether the request is arising from individual needs or coping strategies, or whether the issue is something that affects others as well. If you think it may be a broader issue, consider solutions that can address the problem for everyone. Asking why before just saying no can help built rapport and strengthen relationships.


Before you say no, itʼs important to understand why someone is making a request or suggestion. Sometimes people are experiencing a struggle or challenge that you know nothing about. This gives you an opportunity to discover if thereʼs more to the request than you assume.

In this learning module youʼll learn an approach to exploring the reasons behind requests or suggestions rather than simply saying no. This doesnʼt mean that youʼll say yes, but it does mean that youʼll better understand the underlying need and motivation of the individual. In many cases, you can meet the need without saying yes to the original request.

The Before you say no concepts are:

Stay open minded

Don’t jump to yes or no.

Ask why and how

Understand underlying needs.

Body language

Manage body language that may signal you are uncomfortable, annoyed, impatient or feeling something else that may be unsettling to the other person.

Open mind

Stay curious about the other person’s perspective rather than jumping to conclusions or judging their reaction.

Explore alternatives

Ask for other ways their need can be met.


You don’t always need an immediate decision.

Assess potential impact

Consider the cost and benefit of your decision on others.

Assess broader issues

Do others have the same issue?

Take a few moments to reflect on each of these points before moving on to learn why asking why before you say no matters.

Before you say no, ask “why?” to strengthen relationships

Take time to determine the underlying need to any request before saying no. Even when the requests seem difficult to implement or unreasonable, there's an opportunity to understand why it's being asked. This can help avoid problems and build trust.

Learn how this approach can build trust:

  • Lets people know their opinion matters.
  • Keeps people engaged in exploring alternative solutions.
  • Helps you understand their needs and perspectives.

Learn how this approach can help you avoid problems such as:

  • Defensiveness.
  • Escalating confrontation.
  • Alienation or communication breakdown.

Underlying needs

Identifying the unmet needs of others can require a lot of expertise. Luckily, the approach of before you say no, ask why, does not require that you identify the specific unmet need.

By involving the person in discussing why and how their request is necessary, they can explore other ways to meet their own need.

Some of the alternative solutions may be more reasonable, practical or preferred by you.

There is also the added benefit that by discussing their request before dismissing it, they are more likely to feel that you care about their concerns.


A workplace example of Before you say no, ask why. If an employee comes to you with a request to work remotely indefinitely, but the job requires a lot of collaboration that you feel is best done in person, how can you respond in a way that isnʼt dismissive of what they feel they need?

Choose only one answer and see the response below:

  1. Tell them you are sorry but itʼs against company policy.
  2. Refer them to HR.
  3. Ask why they feel this would help them do their job.
  4. Say you need time to think about it.


Ask why they feel this would help them do their job – Ask why they feel they need to continue to work remotely and how this will help them do their job. This way, you can understand what need they are trying to meet and explore options so they can meet their need while also continuing to contribute to the team and meet expectations.

Questions to understand the full picture

What are some questions you can ask to understand the full picture of where the request is coming from and engage them in the process of thinking of alternatives?

  • Why do you prefer working remotely?
  • How can working remotely full time help you to do your job well?
  • Are there times when you need this work arrangement more than others?
  • What are some other ways you can get focused work time?
  • How can you continue to collaborate with your colleagues?
  • What would be at risk if we do or don’t implement this?

The answers to these questions could include the need to provide elder care, physical or mental health concerns, fear of COVID-19, the cost of commuting, optimal productivity, conflict with coworkers or any other number of issues. It could also include alternative suggestions such as coming into the workplace for collaboration and team building, ride sharing, support to find elder or child care, or a duty to accommodate for a mental or physical disability. If you had just said no to the request, you may not understand the underlying need or the opportunity to explore opportunities.

Even when you understand the underlying need, there is still room for a balanced approach. For example, ask them how they can continue to meet expectations you may have, such as working collaboratively with their colleagues.

Take time to reflect

Sometimes the answer will be easy and obvious based on your exploration of alternatives. When you are unsure of how your decision will impact others, donʼt feel you have to provide an answer right away. If you press pause and tell them you need to think about the issue or look into it further, it can show the person you take their request and what theyʼve shared seriously. Be sure to tell them when youʼll respond.

Consider the potential impact on:

  • you?
  • the person making the request?
  • others? (employer, team, family, clients etc.)
  • health and safety?
  • budget or finances?
  • policies or collective agreements?
  • fairness, inclusion and equity?

Taking the time to reflect on your answer allows you to consider the impact your decisions might have before you say yes or no to any request.

Knowledge check

See Responses below to see the answers to the following 2 questions.

  1. What are the benefits of asking why, before you say no?
    • It can strengthen relationships.
    • Weʼre able to co-create alternative solutions that work for everyone.
    • It avoids people feeling dismissed or disrespected.
    • All of the above.
  2. What are the key things to keep in mind when someone comes to us with a request that seems unreasonable?
    • You should never say no.
    • You need to learn to identify underlying needs.
    • Give people what they want.
    • None of the above.


  1. All of the above – Although asking why does take more time than just saying no, you have the potential to reduce negative reactions such as resentment, anger or frustration. 
  1. None of the above – Of course there are times you need to say no to a request, but taking the time to ask why first can help you understand the other person’s perspective. There’s no requirement for you to learn to identify underlying needs. The only requirement is to ask questions before you say no. 

Tip sheet

Congratulations on learning Before you say no. Weʼve put together a tip sheet with the main learning points of this module. We recommend you save or print it as a reference. There are also free resources you can use if you want a deeper dive on this subject.

View the Before you say no tip sheet | PDF

Additional resources

Below are free resources you can use if you want a deeper dive on this subject.

Before you say no

When people come to you with suggestions or requests, taking the time to understand where they are coming from before you say no helps build rapport by letting them know their opinion and needs matter. This process does not require you to say yes, it just allows you to keep the dialogue open long enough to discover the underlying need or motivation behind the request.

Before you say no for leaders

Learn how all employee requests or behaviours are attempts at meeting a need. Learn how to ask "why" before you say "no" and get to the root of the issue.

Before you say no YouTube video.

We welcome your feedback on this module or any of our resources. Please contact us with your suggestions.



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