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People who hate to say no find it hard to do, and sometimes do something much worse than hurt someone’s feelings. They either don’t say anything, which passively sends an incorrect message of “yes,” or they say no in such a way that the other person doesn’t really know what is being said, sending the message of “maybe.”

People who don’t mind saying no don’t find it hard to do, but they can lack the skills to do it gracefully and very often instill hard feelings, even when that is not their intent.

For those of you who have no problem saying no but need a little guidance on how to say it more effectively, here are some tips.

Tip 1

“I’m Sorry” doesn’t have to mean you are really sorry. A little empathy can go a long way.

Tip 2

Repeat back to the other person their point of view. That will allow them to listen to yours. Once you prove to someone you understand their point of view, by repeating it back to them, they can stop explaining it over and over again.

Tip 3

You don’t have to prove to someone that the situation is their fault. Most people just want empathy, not for you to take the blame. If possible, take their side as much as you can, but return to the situation at hand.

Tip 4

Show the other person you wish it could be different. Telling someone, “I wish I could do this for you…however, I just can’t” is much more powerful than, “I won’t do this for you because I don’t have to.”

Tip 5

Help solve the problem in another way if possible. Even if alternatives aren’t the answer, the fact that you offered them shows you care. Most people, when being told “no,” can take it a little better if it is coming from someone who seems to genuinely care.

Tip 6

Avoid the word “but” when empathizing. When you say, “I understand, but…” what the other person hears is, “I don’t understand.”

Using the tips above, you can say no and avoid conflict. The following examples show how a different approach can save you from an unpleasant situation.

Scenario 1

Pat is a hotel clerk who is trying to help Mr. Donnelly. It’s late at night and he needs a hotel room.

Mr. Donnelly: Look, I really need a room tonight. You’re the sixth hotel I’ve been to and I’m getting really tired.

Pat: I’m sorry, there are no rooms; we’re completely booked.

Mr. Donnelly: Please? I’m exhausted.

Pat: I understand, but that doesn’t change the fact that we have no rooms.

Mr. Donnelly: But I’m exhausted.

Pat: I understand, but how is that our fault? You should have made a reservation.

Mr. Donnelly: Can’t you do something for me?

Pat: (Turning the terminal toward Mr. Donnelly) Look, we have no rooms!

Notice how Pat said she was sorry, but she didn’t really convey that very well. She was also concerned with proving Mr. Donnelly was at fault. She offered no real solution, and certainly did not appear that she wished it were different. The next example shows how Pat does when she applies the tips above.

Mr. Donnelly: Look, I really need a room tonight. You’re the sixth hotel I’ve been to and I’m getting really tired.

Pat: Oh, I’m very sorry, there are no rooms; we have a conference here and we’re completely booked.

Mr. Donnelly: Please? I’m exhausted.

Pat: Mr. Donnelly, I understand that you are exhausted. I know you don’t want to have to keep searching for a room at other hotels. I see how tired you are and understand what you are going through. Believe me, if I had a room, I would definitely give it to you. The truth is... I just don’t have a room available. I’d do it if I could… but just can’t. Can I help you find a room somewhere else?

Mr. Donnelly: Ugh. Okay, yes, please!

Pat’s approach led to a much better result. Mr. Donnelly isn’t thrilled, but he is ready to move on.

Scenario 2

Debbie is a sales person at a department store. The store has a very strict policy about not accepting refunds over 30 days.

Mr. Adam: I want to turn this in for a refund, please.

Debbie: This was purchased over 30 days ago, so I can’t do that.

Mr. Adam: I didn’t know that when I bought it.

Debbie: I understand, but you should have read the return policy then. It’s right there on the sales receipt.

Mr. Adam: Who reads sales receipts?

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Debbie: People who want refunds.

Mr. Adam: Come on. It’s been 34 days. What’s the big deal?

Debbie: I understand, but 30 days is the limit. Sorry. You’re going to have to be reasonable about this.

Mr. Adam: (Now angry) I am being reasonable!!

Notice how Debbie failed to empathize with the customer. She blamed the customer for not understanding the policy. She even went so far as to imply the customer is an unreasonable person.

The next example shows what happens when Debbie approaches the situation with the tips in mind.

Mr. Adam: I want to turn this in for a refund, please.

Debbie: I’m very sorry Mr. Adam, but since this was purchased over 30 days ago, no refunds are allowed.

Mr. Adam: But I didn’t know that.

Debbie: I understand that. It’s on the receipt, and often people don’t really read their receipts, so I can understand that you didn’t know about the policy.

Mr. Adam: Well I have to return it. I can’t use it now and it’s expensive.

Debbie: Mr. Adam, I really do understand. This is an expensive item and you are now realizing you can’t use it. I truly wish the store policy were different and wish there was some way to make an exception. The policy is quite firm, however, and there is just no way to provide a refund. Can I help you find something you can exchange it for that might be acceptable to you?

Mr. Adam: Oh… okay. Do you have a catalog or something?

Hopefully that sounds a little better. Remember, saying no doesn’t have to create bad feelings if you show a little empathy. Follow these simple tips and you might just get a little less resistance from people.

Carl Van trains and speaks to audiences on soft skills such as customer service and branding, negotiations, time management and gaining cooperation.