Correctly say "No" and set limits: friendly, but definitely!


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Many people find it difficult to say “no”. For different reasons: one does not want to disappoint anyone, the other wants to look good. Or you are afraid of negative consequences - especially at work. But if you always say “yes” half-heartedly, they are usually even worse afterwards. It is therefore important to show boundaries in good time - friendly but determined.

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Simone Janson Simone JansonSimone Janson is publisher, German Top20 blogger and Consultant for HR communication.

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Situations everyone knows

Almost everyone is familiar with these typical situations in which you are asked for something and simply think you cannot say “no”. For example if the Chef urgently needs to do something, but at the same time and just as urgently another job must be completed.

Who wants to risk being missed on the next promotion or being on the hit list? So you choose the path of least resistance and say "Yes" with gritted teeth, even though you know that both of these are hard to do at once.

The lesser evil with great consequences

This can have consequences: Whoever tries to please others will soon no longer be able to do their actual job well. In addition, the others quickly get used to the fact that the yes-man always does everything and rely on it. Over time, it becomes increasingly difficult to say “no”.

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But nobody can always do everything satisfactorily and that is the problem. Because people, according to a study of the RespectResearchGroup at the University of Hamburg, have certain ideas about how competent and respectable persons should be: namely, trustworthy, reliable and fair.

A clear no is always better!

However, the trust that others place in you is quickly shaken if you promise to take on a task and then fail to do so due to lack of time. Bosses and colleagues are often more disappointed than if you had immediately rejected and classify you as unreliable. Therefore, it is almost always better to say “No” clearly in advance.

This is also confirmed by personal trainer Tanja Baum, author of the book “The art of saying 'no' kindly”: “Nobody can fulfill the wishes of the boss or colleagues so that the sun is always shining - especially not in everyday working life. But if you take others seriously, put yourself in their situation and provide good arguments as to why you should refuse a request, you will usually gain understanding. ”

Consistent instead of rugged

Indeed. The sound makes the music. A harsh rejection out of fear of being persuaded to do something is usually just as wrong as a not really serious “yes”. Because other people always want to have the feeling that you are taking care of them.

It is important to say “No” consistently! But people like to dodge when others have a request: “I would like to do this for you, but actually I still have to…” Behind this is the wish that the other person will notice that you would actually rather say “No” and backs off by itself.

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Half a “no” does not arrive

Unfortunately, wrongly thought: Half a “No” does not arrive. Very few people can or want to read between the lines and interpret the uncertainty for their own benefit; the uncertain "no" is simply interpreted as an uncertain "yes": "great that you do that .."

Or the other one is upset because he realizes that one wants to talk out for sure. It's better to say it frankly and honestly that it does not fit right now - it is exactly this consequence that the other person will understand and respect.

Attention manipulation!

A half-heartedly formulated “No” also runs the risk of being manipulated: other people then appeal to pity or assume selfishness to persuade the No-Sayer to have a guilty conscience, such as: “I've done so much this week. Don't let me down. ” Or they are disappointed with the person: “Otherwise they are always so reliable. But I probably won't be able to rely on you in the future ”.

Such arguments are intended to put the “no” on the defensive and make them say “yes”. Even if it is difficult: Keeping your opinion friendly but consistent helps best here.

Well argued is half won

Against manipulation, it also helps to substantiate your “no” with good arguments. Because this makes it clear that one does not simply refuse a request arbitrarily, but that there is a good reason for it. Other people can better understand the “no”. In addition, others have the impression that you are trying to take care of them - this is particularly useful when dealing with bosses.

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For example, anyone who shows his boss how busy the schedule is or shows that revision could also have negative consequences for the company is convincing. The boss notices that the “no” is well considered and appreciates that the employee acts responsibly. Important: Do not complain or justify your own opinion, but always argue objectively.

The pitcher goes to the well for so long ...

The jug goes to the well until it breaks. Anyone who says “yes” all the time runs the risk of reacting incorrectly at some point before being overwhelmed: instead of saying “no” objectively, you suddenly become aggressive. With statements like "Do your stuff yourself!" "I don't have time for something like this", but mostly bosses and colleagues feel really offended - also because they couldn't count on such a violent reaction.

It is therefore better to signal in good time “Up to here and no further” so that the other person knows immediately where the limits are. If there is a dispute: Make sure to avoid generalizing allegations such as: "You always with your exaggerated demands ..." - the other person probably does not even know that he has overwhelmed you all the time.

self-analysis

In order to react so rationally, it is important that you and your reactions are exactly known. What is important is therefore an in-depth self-analysis: What triggers another person's request? Does the situation awaken any unpleasant memories? What exactly interferes with the question? What exactly causes the stress? Why can not you be left?

Maybe you can make your own pressure or your own time management is just bad and you can work on it. Perhaps the request of the boss or colleague is simply totally nonsensical, perhaps you have also not understood, what exactly is and can clarify exactly what is required.

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Find compromises

The boss wants one thing, the employee wants something else. Bad luck, if the boss orders only authoritarian. But in many cases you can also talk to your boss, because usually it brings more when both together solve the problem.

In practice this means taking the boss seriously and putting himself into his situation. Look for similarities, not for differences, by showing the boss where common positions lie. Find possibilities for improvement and put the main focus of the argument, because then the boss has the feeling that one goes to him. Perhaps then together can be a better possibility.

Sell ​​the “No” positively

Authoritarian bosses can also be convinced: If you offer an alternative instead of a simple “no” that is just as good or even better, you win the boss for yourself. It can look something like this: “Unfortunately, I cannot do this task today. But colleague Müller is currently free. For this I can optimally support him in his project, since I am very familiar with the topic. It makes us all work much more effectively. ”

Such proposals facilitate the work on the one hand. But even more: the boss sees that the employees constructively think about the good of the company and will appreciate this quality. However: Here too the sound makes the music. Anyone who offers such an alternative should always choose an optimistic vocabulary, which has a more convincing effect on others.

Preparation is everything

Sometimes the role behavior of saying “yes” has become so drastic that the problem can only be solved with a basic, clarifying discussion about the distribution of tasks. However, this should be well prepared: the right strategy is important, and arguments for your overload should be collected.

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Also good: practice the argument at home, so that it is not so difficult to stay consistent. However, one should also ensure a positive basic mood: Those who are internally agitated and aggressive or has accumulated frustration is in danger of overburdening the other with uncharacteristic reproaches.


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  1. Marc

    Thank you for publishing your text, you are absolutely right, saying no is something that many people today can scarcely find. Therefore, such texts are extremely useful!

  2. Leo

    Really a fabulous contribution, because you learn for life. In fact, quite a lot of people can not set limits.

  3. Wilhelm Brammell

    Finally, a text that deserves to be read. Thanks for that!

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