There are right and wrong ways to say “no.”

First, some wrong ways:

  • “No, and why would you even ask?”
  • “No, and can’t you read the sign?”
  • “No, and can’t you see that I’m busy?”
  • “No, and you're the 10th person who's asked me that question today.”
  • “No, and boy, do I love telling people no.”

Now, some right ways:

  • “No, but I understand why you’re asking.”
  • “No, and let me explain why not.”
  • “No, and I don’t blame you if you’re frustrated.”
  • “No, but I wish it were ‘yes.’”
  • “No, but here’s a roadmap to ‘yes.’”

When we stand between someone and what they want, we’re in a position of power over them. And what we do with power says a lot about our character. The right way to say “no,” then, is not in a way that makes us feel powerful, but in a way that leaves the other person’s dignity intact.