What do we really mean when we say ‘no’?  When it comes to our careers, we frequently don’t actually mean ‘never’ when we say no, yet that is what our co-workers often hear. So how can we soften our NO and say exactly what we mean?

Not now

A no can be time specific. We just mean ‘not right now’ or ‘not yet’. Instead of saying ‘no’ to your boss, try, ‘I would love to get that project to you, so let’s negotiate a better time.’ It leaves the door open for conversation.

Not you

A no can be about the people involved. We might look at the partners in a project and say no the entire venture. And yet, what we really mean is, ‘I’m not thrilled about this person but this could be highly successful if we involve a different group.’

Not here

Geography can often play a role in our decision to say no. For example, we may say no to a job because it is outside of our preferred locations. However, if we were more specific with our no and we said, ‘I can’t work in that location’, the company may be able to amend its offer with a remote or work-from-home option, or an offer to work at a different branch.

Not so much/little

Sometimes our no is about balance. When we start dating, we may get turned off by too much or too little attention from our date.  It is not the person necessarily that we want to say no to, but that is what ends up happening when we are unable to articulate how we really feel.

 Not in this way

The specifics of a situation can cause us to turn down the whole deal.  For example, a promotion lies just ahead, but then you learn you will need to fire 5 people right away as you enter the job. You aren’t saying no to the promotion or added responsibility, but you are saying no to the way in which it would have to unfold.


Sometimes a no is simply a no. At other times, a no is triggered by a secondary choice we are not comfortable with. If we look a bit deeper, we can decide when it is appropriate to say no, and when we can negotiate a middle ground that will work with a no AND a yes.

What’s your bad habit and how did you overcome it?  Look forward to seeing your comments!


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