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Tip 3. Ask for Time to Think.

Don’t say yes simply because you’ve been caught off guard and you can’t phrase the negative in a tactful, acceptable way. It’s perfectly acceptable to ask for time to think about your response—even if you know that you plan to say no: “Let me think about that and get back to you.” Noes rarely have to be immediate.

Tip 4. Forewarn People When You Have Devastating News.

When you’re delivering an unexpected bad-news message that will certainly be a shock to someone’s emotional system, warn that person by simply saying the words, “I’m going to have to give you some bad news.” Such an outright statement lets people prepare physically and emotionally for the upset. During this adjustment time, their bodies make the necessary preparation for handling the shock.

Tip 5. When Writing, Be Positive or Neutral in Introducing the Bad News.

When you find it necessary to write your “no” message, you do not have the benefit of the rapport established by personal contact—a warm smile and a firm handshake. When writing, begin by trying to establish that rapport by simply bringing up the topic in a neutral or positive way. If you’re going to have to tel a subordinate that you have decided not to grant him a transfer, you may begin with a neutral opening: “Bill, I’m responding to your request that we consider you for the opening in the La Jolla office.” This neutral opening of the topic sets the stage and a matter-of-fact tone.

Tip 6. State the Reasons or Your Criteria for the No if You Are in a More Powerful Position Than the Other Person.

If you want to help others understand your decision, give your reasons or criteria before you state the no. By the time they’ve heard your explanation, they’ll have already “read between the lines” to know that your no is coming at the end. But this arrangement softens the tone of your no and allows the other person to retain her composure and save face in making an appropriate, accepting response.

Example: “In any transfer decision, we consider several things: tenure in their current position, performance in previous jobs, costs of relocation, and trained replacements. In your case, the cost of relocation has been of major concern.” By the time, you get to the no, the listener will probably have guessed the message that’s coming. But the decision will not sound so arbitrary and cold; the criteria explanation provides a cushion.

Tip 7. Remember That a No Doesn’t Require a Reason.

An explanation is not the same as an excuse. An excuse involves making up something that sounds logical but is not the real reason. An explanation includes your own choice and control about what the other person has asked. “Yes, we do have money in the budget for a few year-end bonuses. But I’ve allocated the money for additional training on our new equipment.” With this explanation, you haven’t shunned responsibility for the decision; you’ve just explained your refusal.

People have a right to ask you to do almost anything—and you have a right to say no without explanation. Examples: “I’m sorry that I can’t explain my decision, but the answer is no.” “Under normal circumstances I’d be happy to help you, but this is a bad time for me.” “I can’t participate.” “I regret that I can’t help.” “I’ve decided that the trip would not be in my best interest.” “After careful thought, I’ve decided not to participate myself, but I wish you the best in the undertaking.”

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