How Can I Say “No” Diplomatically?
Posted On: September 21, 2014
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.
Here are two ways to say no diplomatically
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:
“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?”
“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?”
- Acknowledge the offer (repeat the offer if possible) and/ or thank them
- USE but or however to connect to the next phrase
- Give them an out, so they don’t look or feel bad
To break up our “no” answer into this formula, we have:
- We can surely do X by Friday,
- Y is already on the to-do list. Which one is most urgent?
Jennifer Kumar is a business strategy communication coach that will help you virtually (online) or face to face, as an expat career professional working with Americans to communicate more comfortably with your US counterparts. Contact her for more information, or learn about our negotiation or coaching for tech workers program.