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.

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Why this matters

We all have a desire to feel like our needs and opinions matter. We won’t always agree with other people’s point of view, and sometimes we do need to say no to requests.  But when we take the time to listen and understand their motivation, it helps to build understanding, maintains mutual respect, and keeps the lines of communication open.

Try our short eLearning module which includes key concepts related to this topic. You can share this with others or use it as part of a more in-depth learning program.

Explore and reflect

Take time to explore what the person is asking and why—even if your first instinct is to say no. You can:

Keep an open mind. Don’t jump immediately to yes or no. Each of us has a different way of thinking, working or approaching a task or problem. Keep an open mind to explore where they are coming from, which shows respect and allows you to better address the underlying need, even when you can’t give them what they asked for.

Ask questions to understand underlying needs. Ask them what their thinking is behind the suggestion or request and how this will help them. Especially if you can’t agree or have to say no, this can help to identify the underlying need they are trying to meet (security, belonging, acceptance, recognition, autonomy) so that you can problem-solve together.

Explore alternatives. You may not be able to take up the suggestion or meet their request, but there may be other ways the problem can be solved. Ask if there are other ways to meet their need.

Take time to reflect. Once you understand where they’re coming from, don’t feel rushed to make a decision if it is not a crisis. Taking time to consider what they’ve put forward shows you take them seriously and respect their point of view or needs.

Assess impacts and benefits. Think critically about how your decision might impact all concerned, both positively and negatively. List any benefits that would arise. Doing this will help you avoid unintended consequences. 

Follow up. Don’t leave people hanging on an answer to their suggestion or request. Tell them when you will get back to them, then follow through.

Take action

Explore how you can Listen to understand and Distinguish between acknowledgment and agreement to sharpen your communication and relationship-building skills.

10-minute e-learning

Use this PDF as a reminder of the before you say no concepts. 

An accessible version is also available.

For more eLearning topics, see Microlearning modules

Contributors include.articlesAlex Kollo Coaching and ToolsDavid K. MacDonaldMary Ann BayntonWorkplace Strategies team 2007-2021

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