A template for Saying No.


Ah, the joys of Blogging!  Not only does it help you to organise your own thinking, build a network of like minded people and allow you to enter a highly collaborative community:  it is also a two way street, and just as when you coach someone you learn more about the topic, so when you Blog you often learn more about it too.

My situation wasn’t quite so smiley.

As happened this week.  10 days ago I wrote a post about how I handled a potentially high conflict situation on a 10 hour flight to the USA.  I was asked to swap my excellent seat in Economy with a very bad one so that a couple who had failed to check in online could sit together and tend their 2 year old.  Because I knew in an instant that I didn’t want to let my preference for Accommodating ruin my flight (I tend, like many readers, to like to be helpful and give in to others in the interest of being popular, even if I don’t know them), I managed a Strategic Pause before replying, allowing me to grab the “IF” word from my Conscious Competence toolkit, and respond thus:

“I’m not going to give up my seat for that one, because as you can see it has lots of legroom and I chose it months ago for that reason.  However, IF you can persuade BA to find me an alternative seat with equal legroom, I’d be happy to assist you.”

This post created more response than from any other I have posted.  This is partly because my Blogging guru David Kanigan very generously reposted it to his extensive group of followers, so it was read by many more than normal (and if you have not come across his inspirational Lead.Learn. Live site before, get onto it the  minute you finish reading this!).  I also think the post resonated for people, perhaps because they could relate so well to the situation.

One of the comments came in from Caroll Straus, a divorce lawyer in California.  As a lawyer, no doubt you get to be proficient in analysing text, which is exactly what she did on my Post.  She posted an analysis of my response and then came up with this formula for dealing with similar situations:

“I am not willing to do ___ because ____,  but if you will (solve the stated problem) I will be glad to ___”

“It’s just delicious in its simplicity and effectiveness.”

Thanks so much, Carroll.  I think we have coined a new formula for those who concede too readily to the needs of others.  How would it work in practice?  Let’s try it out a few times.

SELFISH CO-WORKER:  “Do you mind finishing off this report for me?  I have to dash to collect the kids.”

COMPETENT NEGOTIATOR (YOU):  “On the face of it that’s not going to be possible because I have some of my own deadlines to meet.  However, IF you could deal with this piece of work for  me on Monday I’d be happy to help you out.”

Or how about this one:

CHEAPSKATE NEIGHBOUR:  “Hi Mike, I see you just bought yourself a new lawn mower.  Do you mind if I borrow it, as mine can’t cope with the long grass in the vegetable patch.”

YOU:  “It’s not going to be possible for you to use it indefinitely, but IF you were prepared to cut my grass first, I’d be happy to let you borrow it on this one occasion.”

I can see it working.  Especially if I have time to think it through in advance, as I suggested in my follow up Blog to the original aircraft seat story.

Can you see this working for you?  Any suggestions for refining it?

If you want to explore whether you really are an Accommodator, or what the other options are, I made this short video to explain the Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode instrument and what the five preferences are.

© Andres Rodriguez – Fotolia.com

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About Michael Brown Training

I'm a business skills trainer, facilitator and coach. I've been helping people to learn for 16 years, working all around the world on topics such as Negotiation, Conflict Handling, Sales, Leadership, Consulting and Personal Effectiveness. I'm an ENFP, constantly looking for new and inspiring things to do. I love my job for its variety and the stimulation I get from it, and spend most of my time seeing how far we can go with the subjects we work on in the training room. I've recently started a new venture in making video on how NOT to do things, which you can find at www.hownot2.com
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4 Responses to A template for Saying No.

  1. Pingback: The Personal Development Round-up: September 2012 | Prismatic Cognizance

  2. Thank you for the kind words Michael.

  3. Michael, perhaps I am less accommodating than you. Maybe I should ay “meaner”. In the above “how to say no” template, you put it on yourself to state the problem you want solved. In the case of the aircraft seat, you imply stated that you wanted an equal seat, and suggested a way that the other party might find on for you. In that case you wanted nothing more. But I wonder if the template would work like this: “You have asked me for something that benefits you and not me. What is it that you propose that would benefit me?” Perhaps your mean neighbour does not want to mow your lawn, but has two tickets to the FA Cup final he is willing to trade. Or perhaps the aircraft people can’t give you anything on board the plane, but you can stay free in their penthouse when you get to your destination. IOW, you make it their problem to come up with the pro-rata benefit. – James

    • Hi James. Yes. I have to agree, the template could be even better by asking them to propose what they can do in return (just in case it is better than what you had in mind). In other words, back to the good old “Seek first to understand principle”. Michael Brown

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