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Chapter 1 – Saying No and Giving Other Bad News Without Damaging the Relationship

Learn to say “no” to the good so you can say “yes” to the best.
—John Maxwell

The worse the news, the more effort should go into communicating it.
—Andrew S. Grove

I will not take “but” for an answer.
—Langston Hughes

“No” is always an easier stand than “Yes.”
—Rosabeth Moss Kanter

Many a manager has planned a trip across country for a week simply to delay giving his staff bad news. Saying no to an idea, a proposition, or a request from a customer, salesperson, partner, or parent creates knots in the stomach and costs hours of sleep. And the damage done by the delivery can be far worse than the answer itself or the discomfort of the person giving the message. Saying no will seldom be easy. But with the following tips, you may find the task less painful and more productive than you imagined.

Tip 1. Be Clear About Your Own Priorities.

Some priorities stay on your front burner; you know you don’t want to be a part of this, and you know you do want to be a part of that. Your values constitute your basis for saying yes or no to every request for your help or your time. And for the bigger issues, you can ask the age-old question, “If I had only six months to live, would I take on this project?” That thinking will help you focus on the important, time-consuming, life-changing commitments. Unfortunately, everything else falls in between the definite yeses and the definite noes. If your most distressing indecisions about time and money come at work, take some time every few months to focus on your own career and personal goals. Write them down. That list will help you focus and weed out the requests that deserve a “no” response.

Tip 2. Choose Consciously Among the Three Ways to Say No.

You can say no with an uncaring attitude: “No way will I let you borrow my car. Go rent one yourself.” You can say no passively, hiding behind an excuse rather than a real reason. “I can’t. My manager has me so involved in another project that I can’t look up.” Or you can say yes and do no. That is, you can agree to do something and then not come through at the last moment. The last way is the easiest—at the time. But in the long run, you disappoint the person more deeply and often cause more severe problems than you would with an honest, earlier no.

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