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How to deal with “NO”?

(The art of receiving or saying “No”)

When it comes to time management and workload, we are teaching our teams to set boundaries and give feedbacks on their workload.

It implies we have the ability, as a leader, to deal with this “No”. But it’s not always easy when you feel under pressure yourself.

In this article, I want to cover the psychology behind it and why it is a difficult process, both for the person saying “No” and the person receiving a “No”. And I’ll provide some concrete tools and example to help you deal with both.

What is in the way of hearing a “No”?

First, let’s acknowledge our human brain’s design: it is created to keep us safe. It’s first default response to a stimulus (in this case, a push back), is that it is a threat, and it must chose between fight, flight or freeze.

If you feel triggered in a negative way by someone telling you “No”, it’s a normal reaction. It’s OK to feel negatively about this. But it’s not efficient to stay there and I’ll explain later why and how to overcome this.

There is another aspect that is the fear of rejection. We are a social species, so we have a deep need to belong. When we hear a “No”, we can feel rejected. If it was useful when humans were living in the caves and needed to stick together to survive, it is not relevant anymore in our comfortable world.

Before I tell you how to handle this, I wanted to take the other one’s perspective. When I talk to coaches, something that comes back often are the obstacles in saying “No”, especially to their manager or leaders.

What is usually in the way of saying “No”?

Here are some reasons:

  • Worst case scenario: they do not feel safe enough, they fear they will be “punished” in a way or another about their push back.
  • They think “it’s not worth it” because, even if they say “No”, the requester does not see other option and can escalate. And they will end up doing the thing anyway.
  • They want to “please” the requester and they say “Yes” even if they know they should say “No”, to make sure they belong to his/her group.

Why, as leaders should we encourage the “No” anyway?

  • Because saying “Yes” can backfire on our team member’s health. It hides capacity issues at the organization or team level, and the need to better prioritize the work. If we do not encourage a brave “No”, we end up with people doing more and more things and less and less energy to them, hindering performance.
  • Because, saying “No” is as legitimate as a “Yes”. It is about respecting boundaries.

It’s not easy to get a push back. How to welcome a “No”, then?

If a push back triggers you, I’m going to provide some tips that you can try for yourself.

  1. First, realize that it is not personal, you are safe yourself.

This “No” has a meaning you need to uncover from the person you are talking to.

As explained above, if you get frustrated or annoyed, it’s a normal reaction. Take a deep breath and try to understand why you get a no, without any judgment towards the messenger.

The person saying “No” probably need a space to talk and explain in a safe way. This safe space is also beneficial for you, to share what you need and investigate options.

Being mindful of a negative emotion in from of a “No” helps you discover your needs, stop reacting and move to a more creative, pro-active way of dealing with the “No”.

2. Create a safe and creative space for “Nos” (and find more solutions).

To do this, the best way is to work on your feelings.

To improve your emotional intelligence starts by labelling the feeling.

This is a simple as this: catch the feeling as it’s showing up, observe yourself and try to put a name on it (I feel frustrated, angry, panicked, confused, rejected… you name it).

Then, take a few breath, focusing on this breathing process (for example, pay attention to the sound of your breath or to the temperature of the air right under your nose). If you are still in a negative place, postpone your answer kindly. You can say that you need to take a moment to think about the feedback to process it (whatever feels right for you).

3. Once you are in a more neutral state of mind, ask open questions to understand what you can do to help and start a solution focus interaction.

Listen to listen, not to answer. Get rid of any judgment you can have about the answers provided. If it triggers you again go back to point 2.

As you uncover the needs behind the push back, think about solutions as a brainstorming.

Of course, you have your own needs, so be clear about them too. But do not limit the ideas, even if they seem impossible for now. The idea is to open a creative flow and start a valuable exchange with the person in front of you.

Hopefully you will find a win-win agreement, and everyone will feel safer and happier about the outcome.

Note that the more you practice this, the easier the solutions will come to you.

Remember: as humans, our feelings make us move, take action.

  • If we feel negative, our actions will be reactive, limited, scarce.
  • If we feel positive (at least neutral), our actions will be more creative, solution-focused.

Make sure you are out of the negative loops while discussing to find solutions.

I didn’t want to finish this article without covering the other part, that can help both yourself and your team:

How to say “No”?

You can use a non-violent communication approach:

  1. Start by explaining the situation, the facts. Prevent the use of adjectives, as they might be perceived as a judgement.
  2. Then share how you feel about it, using the “I feel…”.
  3. Share what you really need.
  4. Then make a positive, realistic request.

Here is an example:

I have received your email about creating and sending this important newsletter tomorrow at 10 am.

However, it is 5pm and it takes me 10h to proof-read the texts, find the pictures, set up the mailing campaign tool and test it out.

I feel angry because I need to rest and this request comes last minute, so I’ll have to work over night to have it ready on time.

Can we find extra-help to find the visuals and set up the tool while I proof-read the newsletter?

That way the work can be done in parallel, and I am confident we can be ready by tomorrow morning, and I can rest this evening?”.

1 thought on “How to deal with “NO”?”

  1. Pingback: The 1 most beneficial tip to increase your productivity – Ways of Working Coaching

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