Looking for Other Ways to Say No? Try “I Don’t”

As business leaders, we all struggle with having too much on our plates. Often, the problem comes down to saying “no.” Sure, there are lots of ways to say no, or politely decline an invitation or request. But we have a suggestion for you: try saying “I don’t” instead! It might just be the one management tool missing from your toolbox.

In her latest article for The CEO Magazine, power entrepreneur Felena Hanson shared some helpful insights behind the psychology of saying “no” versus “I can’t” and other variations. Believe it or not, “I don’t” was the most effective, least guilt-inducing answer.

Why? According to research, Hanson explained, “saying ‘I don’t’ is psychologically empowering, while saying ‘I can’t’ is psychologically draining.” In fact, using the phrase “I don’t” to turn down a request is almost 50% more powerful than just saying “no.”

Take the following scenario: An employee from another division approaches you and asks for your input on a report they’re putting together – a task that clearly falls outside of your current responsibilities. Instead of saying “I can’t, I’m too busy” and (likely) feeling guilty about it, try responding: “Sorry but I don’t oversee that aspect of your division, perhaps you could run it by Tom (aka, the appropriate supervisor)?” By responding with “I don’t,” you’re likely to get a more positive response from your subordinate and avoid the guilt that often comes with saying no.

The most important part of learning to say “I don’t” and enforcing stricter boundaries around your time and energy is that you’re modeling the same behavior for your colleagues and employees. Keeping your priorities straight and tactfully avoiding distractions and tasks that are outside your wheelhouse goes a long way to ensure a more productive, efficient workplace – and a happier workforce.

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