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How to Confidently Say No

April 8th, 2015 by Annette

Ginsburg SCOTUSWhat about when people make requests of you? Must you say ‘yes’ to requests in order to hear a ‘yes’ in return?

When today’s Wonder Woman, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, was in the midst of her confirmation hearings for her Supreme Court nomination, she refused to answer questions about her stance on heated issues such as abortion, equal rights, disability rights, and separation of church and state. She said, “Were I to rehearse here what I would say and how I would reason on such questions, I would act injudiciously.”

This was a bold statement – she knew that she would evaluate each case on its own merits and not on her biases or personal stances on these issues. However, there were those who misunderstood what she was trying to do. Still, she persisted – and she not only succeeded in getting the nomination, she set a precedent.

Back to my question from earlier – when people make requests, are you required to say yes? (I, of course, am not referring to situations where ‘no means no’. That’s another post entirely.) I’m talking about the politics of your workplace. The favors and obligations you set up amongst your network. I’m talking about the times you’ve had to consider giving in just to keep the peace, to save face, to appear ‘workable’ to your team.

When is ‘no’ (or, in Ginsburg’s case – “I won’t answer”) ok?

The answer to that question is one of my foundational values as a communication expert and coach.

You see, it isn’t about the no at all. Or the yes, for that matter.

It’s about the authenticity of the intention on both sides of the request. Both the requestor and the requestee are responsible for the outcome. The success or failure isn’t measured by our response – it’s measured by the authentic representation of our intentions and desires.

Just like when you make a request, you must include authenticity and commitment when responding to a request. Your integrity, your courage, your ‘being seen’ – these are just as important when you respond to requests.

Here’s a checklist of questions to ask yourself the next time you are faced with a situation that requires you to consider a tricky request:

  • Am I committed to this response or am I just saying yes to comply?
  • Do I feel authentic in my planned response?
  • Do I feel powerful in my planned response?
  • Does this response serve my higher good?
  • Does this response serve the higher good of those around me?

Sometimes, it’ll be a yes. And sometimes, it’ll be a no. Either way, I want you to hear the yes you deserve – and say the no you need to.


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