How to Say No: Learn The Three Types of No and When to Use Them

Sometimes the best way to get that “YES!” you want from your boss is to know how to say “NO!” When you are preparing to say no, it’s important to know which “no” you need to speak so you can speak with confidence and authority. Read on to learn more about the most common types of “no”.

No. Not Ever.

Someone needs to speak up when an idea is bad because:

1. It does not align with the mission;
2. It has already failed; or
3. It will stress resources beyond capacities.

When you speak this “no” you should have a strong case built. Clearly understand and document the “why” in these situations. This is the most difficult “no” to deliver and probably the most difficult “no” to hear if you are the leader. Often, in these cases, the alternative to moving in a new direction is simply continuing in the current direction. Be ready to state the consequences of the new idea, and the benefits of continuing on the current course.

No. Not now.

This one is a little easier to say and to hear. Built into the “no” is the need for a simple adjustment. This “no” is less threatening to the Proposer, because you’re not saying the idea is bad, only the timing. Again, having good data and a solid business case ready to support your “no” is a really good idea. Think through resource utilization, capital availability, client expectations and current needs, current workload of your Team, etc.  Be ready to prove that “later is better”.

No. Not that way.

Surprisingly, this “no” might be your opportunity to shine! On the Threat Level Meter- this one falls somewhere between Not Ever and Not Now. We’re not saying the idea itself is bad (and that’s good!), and we’re not saying you’re going to have to wait…necessarily (and that’s good!). But…we are challenging the means/method/process/schedule, and that might not be easy to hear. The expected reaction depends entirely on the boss.

Big Picture People might actually love it that you are providing detail since it’s not their strength, after all.

Collaborators might roll up their sleeves, ready to dig in with you to tinker with the design, engaging their strength.

The opportunity for you to shine comes from your opportunity to show real enthusiasm for the Big Idea and express ownership and accountability by offering productive input. That’s what the best leaders are looking for, isn’t it- buy in, ownership, and accountability?

Let’s not kid ourselves, it is not usually comfortable to say “no” to someone higher up the food chain than we are. Sometimes, no matter how “right” we are or how strong a case we are able to present, the response will still be one version or another of “Do it anyway.” And that’s okay. Remember, there is always a conversation going on at the altitudes above us that we are not a part of. There is always some part of the story that we do not know. (How to become a part of those conversations is fodder for another blog, eh?)

No one leader knows everything. The best of them recognize that fact and seek out people who know what they don’t, who see what they can’t, who do what they no longer do. These leaders are not looking for what we used to call “Yes Men”. They are looking for those willing to say “NO!” when “no” is what needs to be said,  and able to say why in a clear, articulate, and persuasive way.