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Say No Without Burning Bridges


Jun. 24, 2014 HBR Blogs

Many of us don’t like to say no to a coworker or a boss—for instance, when the boss asks for a tighter deadline, or a team member needs a longer one—because we’re worried about damaging the relationship. That’s because it often feels synonymous with confrontation. And whether you are conflict-averse or conflict-ready, your counterpart may not always handle hearing no the way you’d hoped.

Some counterparts will to try to “yes the no,” even when you’re hoping for minimal friction, because they have learned early on not to take no for an answer and feel like pushovers if they do. Or he might get angry, push back, or go silent, because that’s how he always handles hearing no.

There may also be something about the circumstances that makes it particularly difficult to accept your no. For example, someone who might be able to deal with a no privately could be embarrassed to hear it in front of others and may want you to back down so she can save face.

With all of these obstacles, there is no single trick to saying no while keeping your relationship intact. You can, however, change your perspective on what you’re trying to do. Don’t look at it as a choice between confrontation and preserving a relationship. There’s a middle option: the neutral no.

 

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