Last Updated on 2023/08/25

Dear Friends,

Like many of you, we have just returned from the Chinese New Year holiday. I hope it was a time of renewal for you as it was for me and my family.

Saying No

Saying no is part of any adult’s professional and personal life, but knowing when or how to say no isn’t always straightforward.

In our work at True Development, we often hear about situations where people feel they should say no but are concerned about the consequences of doing so. A few examples:

●An important customer asks for a heavy discount.

●You are overloaded for the next few weeks and your boss asks you to take on an additional project.

●You are working on an important task when an urgent request for assistance comes in from a colleague.

●A family member asks you for a large cash loan.

●A subordinate asks you to make an exception that is in violation of team standards.


The Options選項: No, Yes, and…

Let’s consider your options in these situations:

Say No:

There are brave people among us who have no problem saying no. The problem is that sometimes a direct no is harmful to the relationship. You may be right to say no, but you have given the other person nothing but a rejection.

●  Say Yes

Many people give in when they should not do so for fear of damaging a relationship. In making such a choice, they are hurting themselves and possibly other people they care about. Such behavior may be viewed as a character flaw by others. Resentment maytake root when you are unable to keep all of your commitments or do not properly balance competing interests.Saying yes to the wrong thing can be even more damaging than saying no.

Make an Excuse: Making an excuse almost always involves deception at some level. It harms personal credibility.

Explain: Say “I’d really like to, but I can’t,” then give your reasons. To a person committed to getting a yes, you have just invited a continued effort to persuade you to give in, because for all of your reasons you have still given them nothing.

●  Delay: Say “Let me get back to you on that” and hope the person forgets about the request. Sometimes we get lucky and we never hear from the requester again. And sometimes the requester resents you for not ever getting back to them.

None of the choices are ideal.

The Positive No

William Ury, a noted negotiation expert and author of Getting to Yes and Getting Past No, suggests a better way: When your own interests AND the relationship with the requester are both important, use a Positive No. The Positive No has a three part structure:

1.   Yes
2.   No
3.   Yes

First, explain why you cannot grant the request as it is given. There is a reason why you have to say no. Be honest about what it is.

Second, deliver a polite but direct no.

Third, give an alternative proposal.

For example, if your colleague asks you to stay late today and help prepare a presentation he must deliver tomorrow morning but you have dinner plans, don’t just say no. Say “I have dinner plans with my family, so I cannot stay late tonight. What I can do is send you is the slides I used for a similar presentation so you can save some time. If you need my help with parts of it later on, I can help you after I put my daughter to bed at 9pm.”

You have protected your own interests and those of your family but have also shown care for your colleague.

What you give as an alternative can be adjusted depending on the importance of the relationship and your ability to help.



When Power isn’t Equal

You might be thinking “This will only work when the two people have similar levels of power.” I understand, but consider this:

In situations where you need to say no to your boss, the Positive No works quite well with a slight adjustment. Your “yes” must be to something that the boss also cares about. For example: “Boss, I am working on Project X, the one you said should be my top priority right now and I’m reluctant to stop as there is danger of a delay if I do. I will finish that next Monday afternoon, then I can start on this new one. How does that sound?”

Most bosses just want to get the work done. You’ve committed to doing that. A slight delay in start time usually isn’t a problem and if it is, there are other alternative proposals you can suggest.

In situations where you are the vendor or supplier, a friend of mine who has worked in purchasing for 30 years and now leads a large procurement function made these comments:

“I always ask for a discount and train my people to do so as well. In my experience, there are three types of responses from account managers.

The first type, and the majority, gives in immediately. I’m happy, but I feel they don’t respect their company because they gave me 100% of what I wanted at their company’s expense. They didn’t even try to negotiate, which would have been acceptable to me.

The second type flat out rejects me. I have no respect for these people because they show little concern for our interests.

Only a few people will tell me they can’t do 100% of what I ask, but they can do X, Y, and Z for me. These are the people who respect the relationship with us and who also protect their company’s interests. I have the most respect for these people.”

Personally I don’t like to say no, but I have learned to say no in a positive way thanks to my friend and yours William Ury. You may be surprised at how powerful this very simple tool is once you start using it.

If you do use it and care to get in touch with me about how it went, please feel free to e-mail me any time at


Yours in learning,

True Black

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