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  • Christin Webb

When You Do Not Want to Say 'No'


As leaders, we are called upon daily to answer questions, make decisions, and guide our teams or organizations' direction. Ultimately, we do each of these to attain success. The upside is that success can exist and exist repeatedly. The downside is that when answering questions, making decisions, or guiding the teams, we will not make everyone happy. It is not possible. There will always be a situation where you cannot accommodate a request precisely as it was communicated. Maintaining healthy relationships is a valuable trait for leaders; even if you have to decline a request, it is vital to handle the declination to allow for a continued positive relationship with the requestor. How do you do that, you ask? Good question.


  1. Listen. Listen to the requestor and what they desire to achieve. You can not offer a solution or give the best response if you do not have clarity on what they need. Once you hear them out, restate the request back to them to ensure your interpretation of their request meets their intent. The worst thing you can do is deny a request based on not having full comprehension.

  2. Get the Request in Writing. If you retain nothing else from this information, remember always to have the request documented. Documentation not only assists with the tracking and auditing of requests, but it can come in handy if there is ever a dispute about what was initially requested.

  3. Understand Policy. Know what parameters you must work within. What flexibility do you have within your organization as relates to specific requests? Are you able to modify a process to achieve the outcome the requestor desires? If you are, you may want to offer an alternative solution. We never want to break the rules, but how can you find an alternative that satisfies the requestor's need and keeps you aligned with policy.

  4. Do Not Say 'No.' You are possibly asking yourself, 'If the answer is no, why wouldn't I just respond, 'No'?' Psychologically, people do not like the word 'no.' The word 'no' can immediately shut down a person's reception to what is being communicated. It is a creative technique, but instead of saying 'no,' try using a different language. Especially if you have an alternative to their request, try using language like, 'Let's try this instead,' 'Here's a better option,' or 'I am unable to approve as is, but I have an alternative solution that will help.'

The suggestions above do not dismiss the fact that sometimes you will not meet the request as submitted, but you can maintain the integrity of your role, scope of responsibility and a cohesive relationship with the requestor(s). The key is, to be honest, transparent, and provide clear explanations for your response or action(s).

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