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    Welcome to Authentic Journeys - ഓതെന്റിക് ജെർനീയ്സ് - US-India Cross-Cultural Training

September 21, 2014

How Can I Say "No" Diplomatically?

Saying "no" in most cultures is an art. There are surely times when your boss or US client has asked for (or demanded!) something that was not possible to do. Let's discuss a few tactful ways to approach the no, save face, and maintain an amicable relationship.  


What are polite ways to disagree or say no with US Citizens?

Follow the tips below to use different kinds of questions to help prioritize tasks and project deadlines. These kinds of conversations are somewhat indirect ways to say no that help to also demonstrate your attention to detail and project planning. 

Using Questions to "Give them Power" 
There are many reasons for using questions. In this video, James suggests to use a question to say no. Using questions shows the requestor you have heard and understood the requests and are now asking them for their priority. 

For example, the US client has asked your team to do task X by Friday, forgetting task Y is also to be completed also. We could use a variety of questions to get them to choose priority: 

Simple Question: 
"We can surely do X by Friday, however, Y is already on the to-do list. Which one is most urgent?"

More Complex Question:
"We can surely do X by Friday. In our previous call we discussed also finishing Y by Friday. The team is about half done on this. Would you like us to put Y on hold and finish X instead?"

A Bit More Complex:
"We can surely do X by Friday. In our previous call we discussed also finishing Y by Friday. The team is about half done on this. We see that there is some overlap in X and Y. Shall we discuss this overlap and prioritize which tasks of X and Y we can finish by Friday?"

Using BUT to Contrast to the "No"
In a previous blog post, I noted how many native speakers have a psychological feeling that whatever comes after the words but, therefore and however is "negative" or contrasts to a "no" answer. This technique was combined with the questioning tactic above when asking: 

"We can surely do X by Friday, however, Y is already on the to-do list. Which one is most urgent?"

or

"I understand based on discussions over the last few days why X is more urgent. However, we can't forget that Y has been in the backlog and was scheduled to be done by Friday as well. I think as we look at the project plan, we could finish X by Friday, but Y would probably get delayed. What are your thoughts around this?"


The tactic James suggests to use in the video is to:
  1. Acknowledge the offer (repeat the offer if possible) and/ or thank them
  2. USE but or however to connect to the next phrase
  3. Give them an out, so they don't look or feel bad
To break up our "no" answer into this formula, we have: 
  1. We can surely do X by Friday,
  2. however
  3. Y is already on the to-do list. Which one is most urgent?
In step 2, where 'however' is written - do NOT use BUT. Here are the reasons why you should not use BUT. 

See the video for more examples.



Jennifer Kumar is a corporate cultural communication specialists providing targeted communication solutions to Indians working with American counterparts. Contact her for more information. 

Related Posts: 
Apologizing to Americans 
Saying no to longer meetings 

Networked blogs link: http://nblo.gs/105vrZ

Authentic Journeys: Bridging Culture on Virtual Teams

We help build effective, culturally competent global teams with focus on the cultures of the USA and India. Jennifer Kumar, Managing Director, an American citizen, has almost 10 years experience living, studying and working (owning a business) in India. Authentic Journeys Consultancy is registered as a Private Limited in India (Kerala) and an LLC in the USA (Salt Lake City, Utah). We provide onsite and live-online instructor-led courses, facilitation and corporate coaching.