A to Z of Negotiation - N is for No


Have you ever found yourself in a conversation where you’ve said yes when you really wanted to say no? I know I have. In fact, I once found myself on a over 50’s bus trip around the Northern Territory with my grandfather (I was 26) because I didn’t know how to say “no”. Now there’s an embarrassing story for another day!

So why is saying no so difficult? Well, the short answer is anger or fear get in the way. We end up with a result that is far from helpful.


Let’s have a look at that in more detail.

What happens when we don’t say “no”?

Generally, if we don’t want to say no, there is an escalating pattern of behaviour.

  • Firstly, we Avoid – here’s where we dodge the conversation so we don’t have to say yes or no. While we avoid confrontation we also don’t get any resolution, most likely causing stress and frustration for both parties – and damaging the relationship.

  • Then we Attack – in this case, we do provide a “no” but we do using raised voices or angry words. Words may be said in the heat of the moment which we later regret – and can’t take back! Of course, the result is a damaged relationship.

  • Lastly, we Accommodate – in this case, fear stops us from saying no so we just agree to what is being asked of us to avoid damaging the relationship. Of course, this sets a precedent for future interactions in which we are likely to continue a pattern of accommodating which leads to a growing sense of frustration for us – and we end up damaging the relationship.

We don't always go through all three steps. We might start at attack telling the other person how unreasonable they are. If they persist in pushing things, you may revert to accommodate – it’s just easier to cave in.

So how do I say no?

You need to know that no-one says this will always be easy. However, here’s a few tips to increase your change of success and decrease your stress.

Slow things down When you get a request that makes you feel uncomfortable saying no to, take a short break. Take time out to find out why you are hesitant and what it is about this request that is creating some emotional response in you. This will help you avoid caving in too soon or jumping in to attack mode.

Start with yourself Be clear on what is important to you. When you want to say no to something it is often because it conflicts with your needs, interests or values. Take the time to clearly think about what these are. This can help you articulate why “no” is so important for you. It also gives you the confidence to stand firm or look for other options that might work.

Statue listening

Listen and demonstrate your understanding While you may not agree with what the other party believes, it is important to fully understand what they believe. If the other party doesn’t feel heard they will most likely keep pushing, believing that you are saying “no” as you haven’t properly understood them.

You can demonstrate that you understand them without actually agreeing with them. This removes the resistance we often see when someone feels they are not being listened to.


For example: “What I hear you saying is that the goods were expected to be delivered in a reasonable timeframe. You needed the goods in two days and you believe that the delivery in three days was unreasonable. Is there anything important that I've missed?”

Think of the other person Understanding the impact of your “no” on the other person is important. Are you saying “no, not at all” or “no, not this way”. Sending the message that you are open to finding other ways to meet the other person’s interests as well as your own will be helpful. Ask them to treat your “no” as the beginning of a discussion.

Remember, the other person will often be accountable to other stakeholders. Helping them to find ways to frame their acceptance of your “no” to these stakeholders will also help them to save face and make your “no” more palatable.

What other tips do you have for saying “no” in a constructive way?

If you would like help in learning to say “no” in a way which avoids damaged relationships or for any other assistance with negotiations or dispute resolution, please contact us.


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