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How To Respectfully Say No

How To Respectfully Say No

There will always be times in your personal and professional life when you have to say "no" to someone's request. The challenge is how to do it without alienating them. In fact, would it be possible to say "no" and actually have the person walk away appreciating you? I believe it truly is.

How Not to Say No

I was in a small electronics store the other day and watched a woman try to return an item. She started out fairly pleasant, but no matter what she said, the store manager was curt, short and unsympathetic. Without any outward appearance of caring for her plight, he flatly refused to honor her request, stating repeatedly that she was past the 30-day return period.

At one point she asked, "Well, since you still carry this item, could I exchange it for something of equal value?"

The manager's nostrils flared, his lips tightened and one eyebrow lifted sharply as he snapped out, "Maybe I'm not making myself clear. You cannot return or exchange this. It is our policy." The woman's frustration grew. "I'm a good customer of this store. I can't believe you won't at least let me exchange this item."

I watched in amazement as the man sarcastically replied, "And I am sure we are happy that you are such a good customer. But you CANNOT return this item."

She gathered her belongings and stomped out of the store, proclaiming, "I'm never coming back to this store!"

I thought to myself that this man could have declined her request — AND kept a good customer if he had simply acted like he really wanted to help her. He could have said (with true compassion and understanding) things like:
"I know this is very frustrating."
"I'm sure I would feel the same way if I were you."
"I am so very sorry."
"If there was anything at all that I could do, believe me, I would."

He could have actually said to her, "You know, I have called our home office before and asked them to bend the rules — and they always said no. But why don't I try again?" Then -- he could have either made the call or not. But what she would have gotten was how much this man did want to help her.

As simple and logical as this seems, here's why most of us have a problem actually doing this. We love being RIGHT that the other person is WRONG for asking for whatever it is that they are asking for. And somehow we feel that if we show compassion for their plight, we are telling them that they are RIGHT for asking. Well, as they say, you can be right or you can be happy. Pick one.

Here's the bottom line. If you show people that you truly care about them and their needs, and that you hate having to say no to their request, you win! They will walk away knowing that even though you had to decline their request, you tried everything in your power to give them what they wanted. They will like you. They will want to stay in relationships with you, do business with you, and are more likely to try and help you when the tables are turned.

By Linda Larsen, C.S.P.

Learn More About Effective Communication

Linda Larsen, C.S.P., helps individuals think strategically, communicate effectively and celebrate success. She is an international keynote speaker, trial consultant and author of the book, “True Power,” and the best-selling audio program, “12 Secrets to High Self-Esteem.” She can be reached at or 941.927.4700.