How To Say No Without Sounding Nasty

Did you ever say no and then feel bad about it?

As an early childhood and family educator, I've had to say it many, many times over the last 43 years and I'll be the first to admit that it isn't always a piece of cake.

I've learned a lot over the years, though, and the best advice by far came from a book I read in grad school called Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenthal.

To summarize a really great book in a few sentences, his method goes like this:

O-Observation. Here's where you state the facts and only facts. "I noticed you didn't take out the trash and you promised me you would." No judgment or name-calling allowed.

F-Feelings. Only your own feelings and don't make it their fault. Own your feelings. "I'm nervous it'll still be there when Aunt Penny arrives."

N-Needs. "I need the house to be ready for the guests when they arrive."

R-Request. "Can you get it out within the next 10 minutes, please?" Be as clear as you can be.

I"ve used this method many times and it works. It works especially well when you know something difficult is coming and you can rehearse it ahead of time.

Since that isn't always the case, I'm going to give you a couple of back-up methods for addressing issues on the go. Like when someone says something to you and it really stings. This method comes from Abigail Van Buren, (aka Dear Abby) and I've found it to be very effective.

During the time when your mind is reeling from their seemingly hurtful words, you can simply ask them why they asked that question or exactly what they meant by that statement. Ask for clarification and you suddenly shine like an angel. Just make sure you ask in a totally innocuous tone of voice.

If they truly had negative intentions, the ball is in their court to admit their feelings outright. Or they could have had a reason to ask that you never considered. Either way, you force them to admit their feelings and stop beating around the bush.

Once you understand their true intentions, you could offer your true feelings, "I like Sheldon's hair long and so does he.", or an explanation for your choices "We decided to spend more time choosing gifts, so we skipped the haircut this time." If they say something that you disagree with, that's OK, as an adult and as a human being, you're entitled to your own opinions and feelings.

Whatever you do, don't give another person the ability to "make" you sad or upset. It only gives them power over you! Instead, you can say this. "I'll agree to disagree on that, Uncle Howard." If they keep at it, just repeat that you'll agree to disagree. Unless you really want to argue with them. If so be my guest! It's your conversation, not mine.

I got off the "No!" track a bit so I"ll end by giving you a few ways to simply say it. No explanations needed. Remember, as an adult, you are in control of what you do, as well as what you say.

"No, I don't want to take that on. It doesn't fit in my schedule."

"No, I don't know the answer to that question. Maybe you could ask someone else."

"No, I don't want to do that. It makes me feel uncomfortable."

"Seriously?" Only use this one for absolutely ridiculous requests!

For a child, you can re-direct their attention without nagging or yelling by looking straight at them and repeating your request in as few words as possible. "Leonard, the trash." Then keep looking at them until they comply. You may have to counter their words of protest or procrastination with, "Not later, now."

I hope these ideas help you. I tried to condense a lifetime of learning about people into a few short paragraphs because I realize how little time most people have to study this stuff. That's what I do and that's who I am.

Want more ideas?

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Nanci J Bradley is an early childhood and family educator, author, teacher, SELF-care facilitator, family aerobics instructor, and an all-around fun-loving person. She believes in the power of sleep, healthy eating, lifelong learning and most of all, PLAY! She studied early childhood ed at Triton College and received her BS in education in 1986 from NIU. She received her MA in human development from Pacific Oaks College in 2011. She lives and teaches in Madison WI.