As a leader, it's your job to protect the focus of your organization. You have to ensure that your limited resources are put to bear in the most effective way. As Fred Wilson (a venture capitalist) says:
That often means refusing requests from customers, suppliers, employees and even from your boss.
Regardless of the reason, here's how to say "no."
First be sure you understand the request (and that the other party feels you understand them). Listen to the full request without interrupting, and then ask questions to clarify. Seek to understand not just the specific request, but the underlying need the request is designed to satisfy.
If the request must be refused, say "no" clearly and immediately. Don't delay the "no" if you know it must be made. And don't confuse the "no" with a meaningless mass of words. Just say "no."
Explain why you are refusing the request. Tell the truth here! As a business leader, do your best to have a clear business reason for your refusal.
Together, see if you can develop alternatives that will meet the need identified in step 1 and that you will be able to approve. Always try to offer some alternative.
The entire conversation needs to be on respectful, business terms. Don't let it get personal. Stay firm. Look the other party in the eye and calmly state your response. Own the "no" - don't blame someone else for the refusal, and don't apologize.
You may need to repeat your "no" several times before the other party clearly hears it. It's okay to sound like a broken record here - that's often what it takes to break through.
For more ideas on how to say "no":
- Ramona Creel offers "20 Ways To Say No", a great list of legitimate reasons to refuse a request.
- Crystalinks has a useful article on assertiveness, including a fun little test.
- Temple University's Tuttleman Counseling Services offers "Four Ways to Say No."
- Dawn Rosenberg McKay addresses the tough issue of "Saying No to Your Boss."
- WikiHow has a nice recipe for "How to Say No Respectfully."
- You can read more posts like this in my "Communications" category.