How to deliver "NO" like a sweet smelling bouquet

Why do the words “I’m sorry” so often follow the word “No”?

And why do we assume that the person we’re directing this mighty two letter word toward, will immediately jump in their car, drive away at top speed, hurling profanities out the window before they screech into their driveway at home, and block us across all of their social media?

If this has eventuated, my friend, I’d suggest you get yourself a private number and new address ASAP because a weighty ball of dread resting deep in the pit of my stomach tells me there’s a print out of your LinkedIn profile stuck to the back of the offended's bathroom medicine cabinet mirror, beside their razors, rat-bait, and gallery of all the other people who’ve pissed them off and will rue the day! Whooooaaa-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha. Whoooooaa-ha-ha - but I digress.

I recently called on an old business acquaintance for a small favour. Nothing absurd, nothing costly; it required around 15 minutes of their time, at most. A few days later I received their reply. They didn’t address my query, but they confided that they were going through a hard time personally. On top of this they were snowed under at work. She wished me all the best in finding the info and guidance that I’d asked her for.

Without even saying it, she'd given me a firm NO.

Was I pissed off? Not in the slightest. I was blown away by her honesty. I admired her for that, and told her as much. I also extended my love to her and wished her all the strength she needed to get through the challenges she was facing.

Last week I received a text message from someone I’d been in touch with months earlier. Without realising, I’d hit her at her busiest point in her business. In the chaos my message was lost, and she opened her reply with “I’m so sorry.” She’d so much on her plate, and the terms ‘overwhelming’ and ‘coping’ peppered her message. To this, she added: “I’m hopeless at saying NO.”  

The momentary discomfort you’ll feel delivering “NO” is far less excruciating than the 15 minutes, an entire day, weeks or even years of discomfort you’ll experience in saying “YES” out of fear of causing offence. The nightmare client who’s demanding discounts five minutes into the enquiry stage. The dinner you really don’t want to go to. That seemingly innocuous favour you said yes to, piled high on ten other ‘little 15-minute favours’, which, cumulatively, is the reason you’ve failed to meet today’s deadlines and arrived late to your daughter’s ballet rehearsal, and now make standing outside in the nude on a 10-degree Melbourne day with a wind-chill factor of -4 seem enjoyable.

Reframe NO and deliver it from the same place of care as when you say YES.

“Giving a discount would be unfair to my other amazing clients – I wouldn’t feel great about that.  I want to see you achieve the best results within your budget so another consultant is likely a better fit for you.”  Said out of care. Now, high-five.

“Thanks for your dinner invitation, but I’ve been burning the candle at both ends. I need to look after myself more right now so I’ll be staying in for some much needed R&R.” Said out of care. Now exhale.

“Fifteen minutes doesn’t sound like much, but if I say yes, I’ll fall short on other things I need to be focusing on.  I hope I can ask you a small favour a support me with that.”  Said out of care. Now, get back inside and put some clothes on.

And to that - and that alone - I won’t take no for an answer.