We all have to say no at times. Some of us find it easier than others, yet almost all of us struggle with the right way to say it.

People who hate to say no find it hard to do, and they sometimes end up doing something much worse than hurt someone's feelings. They either don't say anything, which passively sends an incorrect message of yes, or they say no in such a way that the other person doesn't really know what is being said, sending the message, maybe.

People who don't mind saying no don't find it hard to do, but can lack the skills to do so gracefully and very often engender hard feelings, even when that is not their intent.

If you need a little guidance on how to say no more effectively, here are some tips.

Tip #1: "I'm sorry" doesn't have to mean you feel regretful. A little empathy can go a long way.

Tip #2: Repeat back to the other person their point of view. That will allow them to listen to yours. Once you prove to someone you understand their point of view by repeating it back to them, they can stop explaining it over and over.

Tip #3: You don't have to prove to someone that the situation is their fault, and neither do you have to take the blame yourself. Most people just want empathy.

Tip #4: Show the other person you wish it could be different. Telling someone, "I wish I could do this for you, however, I just can't," is much more powerful than, "I won't do this for you because I don't have to."

Tip #5: Help solve the problem in another way, if possible. Even if alternatives aren't the answer, the fact that you offered them shows that you care.

Tip #6: Avoid the word "but" when empathizing. When you say, "I understand, but..." what the other person hears is, "I don't understand."

Using these six tips, you can say no and at the same time avoid conflict. The following examples show how a different approach can save you from an unpleasant situation.

Scenario 1

Pat is a hotel clerk who is trying to help Mr. Donnelly. It's late at night and he needs a hotel room.

Mr. Donnelly: Look, I really need a room tonight. You're the sixth hotel I've been to and I'm getting really tired.

Pat: I'm sorry, there are no rooms; we're completely booked.

Mr. Donnelly: Please? I'm exhausted.

Pat: I understand, but how is that our fault? You should have made a reservation.

Mr. Donnelly: Can't you do something for me?

Pat (pointing to her terminal): Look, we have no rooms!

Notice that Pat said she was sorry, but she didn't really convey this very well. She was more concerned with proving Mr. Donnelly was at fault. She offered no real solution, and certainly did not appear to wish it were any different.

The next example shows how Pat does when she applies the tips above.

Mr. Donnelly: Look, I really need a room tonight. You're the sixth hotel I've been to and I'm getting really tired.

Pat: Oh, I'm very sorry, there are no rooms; we have a conference here and we're completely booked.

Mr. Donnelly: Please? I'm exhausted.

Pat: Mr. Donnelly, I understand how you feel. I know you don't want to have to keep searching for a room at other hotels. I see how tired you are and understand what you are going through. Believe me, if I had a room, I would definitely give it to you. The truth is, I just don't have a room available. Can I help you find a room somewhere else?

Mr. Donnelly: Ugh. Okay, yes, please!

Pat's approach led to a much better result. Mr. Donnelly isn't thrilled, but he is ready to move on.

Scenario 2

Debbie is a salesperson at a department store that has a strict policy of not accepting refunds after thirty days.

Mr. Adam: I want to turn this in for a refund, please.

Debbie: This was purchased over thirty days ago, so I can't do that.

Mr. Adam: I didn't know that when I bought it.

Debbie: I understand, but you should have read the return policy then. It's right there on the sales receipt.

Mr. Adam: Who reads sales receipts?

Debbie: People who want refunds.

Mr. Adam: Come on. It's been thirty-four days. What's the big deal?

Debbie: I understand, but thirty days is the limit. Sorry.

Notice how Debbie failed to empathize with the customer. She blamed the customer for not knowing the policy and not reading the sales receipt.

The next example shows what happens when Debbie approaches the situation with the tips in mind.

Mr. Adam: I want to turn this in for a refund, please.

Debbie: I'm very sorry, Mr. Adam, but since this was purchased over thirty days ago, no refunds are allowed.

Mr. Adam: But I didn't know that.

Debbie: I understand you didn't know about the policy. It's on the receipt, and often people don't really read their receipts.

Mr. Adam: Well, I have to return it. I can't use it now and it was expensive.

Debbie: Mr. Adam, I really do understand. This is an expensive item and you are now realizing you can't use it. I truly wish there was some way to make an exception. The policy is quite firm, however, and there is just no way to provide a refund. Can I help you find something you can exchange it for that might be acceptable to you?

Mr. Adam: Okay, do you have a catalog or something?

Remember, saying no doesn't have to create bad feelings if you show a little empathy. Follow these simple tips and you might just get a little less resistance from people when saying no.

CARL VAN is a professional public speaker
and business course designer. He is President and
CEO of his own international training company.
He trains and speaks to audiences all over the
United States and Canada on soft skills such as
customer service and branding, negotiations, and
time management. He is the author of
Cooperation: Simple Steps to Getting Customers to
Do What You Want Them to Do.