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The Diplomatic Decline–How to EFFECTIVELY say NO: Communication Skills for home and work

Diplomatic Decline--Saying No without offending--communication training

The Diplomatic Decline is the Definitive NO!

Do you have trouble saying no–and then regret that fact–when you realize you’ve committed to something you don’t want to do?  Then read the letter below from Confused in Cleveland, and Dan’s detailed response outlining the Diplomatic Decline, one of his many communication skills scripts for people looking to hone their interpersonal communication abilities.

Dear Dan,

So you’re a professional communications trainer and speaker. Tell me–My manager says that I sound like I work at the DMV when I say no to people. She says I’m supposed to say it more diplomatically (whatever that means) and that knowing how to say no in a professional way is part of the professional communication skills thing…what does that mean, and how am I supposed to say no at work?

What’s wrong with just saying no when you mean no?

By the way, I attended your on-site communication training class in Cleveland and loved it. You’re a great trainer and keynote speaker.

Thanks for the inspirational thoughts!

I hope to hear from you soon!

Confused in Cleveland

Hi Confused!

Well, it just so happens I think the people who work at the Fargo, ND DMV have some of the best customer service skills you’ll ever find.

That said, I think your manager is right. Knowing how to say, no is part of any professional communication skills toolkit, which is why I always include this specific communication skill in all of my on-site training classes and professional communication training resources.

I’m going to paste an excerpt from my upcoming audio program. When I release it, I’ll send you a complimentary copy for sending me this question.

Here goes:

Let’s talk about saying no. Let me give you an example:

Mary, a coworker, approaches you and she says something such as, “Hey you know we’re throwing a party for Susie in accounting who’s leaving the company and everybody is pitching in to buy her a big going away present. We’re each pitching in about $10 a person. Can I count on you?” You don’t want to contribute. What do you say? Do you have a prepared no response?

Or your boss comes to you and says, “Hey you know I’m really in a bind and I need someone to stay after work just for a few hours and I’m really counting on you.”  So what do you say? You can’t stay because you have plans. Maybe your plans are with American Idol and a cheese pizza in a dark room, but it doesn’t matter.

What do you say? Do you have a prepared no response? You should. Saying no is something we have to do all the time and the interesting thing is that almost no one has a plan for this. We tend to wing it every time and struggle every time. Having a plan will enable us to more effectively and diplomatically say no. Do you have a plan? Well, I’m going to give you one.

By the way, simply barking out a “NO!” is not a plan. Sometimes to be seen as professional and assertive we need to be seen as diplomatic.
Let me introduce you to the diplomatic decline. The diplomatic decline helps you get the no out of your mouth while being diplomatic and, and decreases the chances for an argument afterwards. It has four steps. Memorize them. You’ll be glad you did. Here they are:

1 – Sympathize
2 – Say no
3 – Say why
4 – Suggest alternatives

Quick tips to remember–

Before I give you another example, let me give you a few tips. Remember when you’re declining, don’t say I’m sorry. Do not be sorry because you have to say no. Also don’t talk too much. The more you talk, the less credibility and strength you’ll project. Finally, use the broken record, which is repeating yourself word for word as often as necessary until the listener gets the point. This does two things for you: First, it makes your life easier because you don’t have to think up new words to say, and secondly, it sends a really strong message that says, “You can keep asking me until you’re blue in the face, but I’m going to keep saying the same thing over and over giving you nothing new that you’ll be able to use against me in this little battle we’re having.” Most people when saying no don’t do this. Instead, they either keep adding new excuses which only gets them into more trouble until they cave, or they try to stick to their guns and repeat themselves but can’t because the words were flying out of their mouth haphazardly to begin with.

This will not happen to you if you master this tactic. You’ll  be able to easily repeat yourself nearly word for word if you’re using a tactic to frame your response.

Let’s talk about each one of the four steps.

Step 1 – Sympathize. This helps soften the no. You want to tell the other person that you recognize that this is important to them and you’re not discounting their needs right now. “I understand you’re in a bind,” for example–as opposed to  the Danger Phrase, “I understand how you feel.”

I’ve found the following phrase particularly effective: “I can understand what a bind you’re in and under normal circumstances. . . .”  When you tell someone, “Boy I can understand what a bind you’re in and under normal circumstances I would love to help,” this lessens the argument that sometimes follows because the listener now assumes that these must be extraordinary circumstances.

Step 2 – Say no. It’s amazing how often people think that they’re saying no when in fact they never actually say no. They say things such as, “Oh I’d love to but I’m a little short on cash right now.” This is not a no. Or they will say something such as, “I’d love to but my mom is in town.”  Again this is not a no. These are simply invitations for the other person to tell us how he or she can help make it possible. “Oh I can lend you money for a while,” or “Oh your mom can come too. Wouldn’t that be fun?”

A great Power phrase to get the no out of your mouth is, “…however, unfortunately I can’t.”  That’s a no. It’s simple, however if you don’t have it prepared in advance, you might not like what comes out of your mouth instead.

Step 3 – Say why. Here’s the part I love the most because it helps us be prepared. People tend to ask us for one of two things–our time or our money. Yet, we seem to struggle with these issues every single time.

Not any more.

Remember don’t give excuses. Instead, if someone asks you for your time, simply use the Power phrase, “I’ve made other plans.” Don’t say what they are or you’re really asking for trouble. The assertive communicator does not explain any further. Your plans could be that you intend to sit at home alone. You deserve to be able to keep those plans. If someone asks for your money, try the Power Phrase, “It’s not in my budget.” Nobody knows what your budget is. You could have a $2500 budget for booze and bingo, but that’s your budget and your business. Whatever your budget is, I’ll bet that the money someone asks you for in a pinch wasn’t anywhere in it. Now with those two responses, you should be able to answer 99% of requests with an effective no if that’s what you want to say.

Step 4 – Suggest alternatives. There is no specific Power Phrase for this, but just remember to be able to live with your suggestions. If you tell your boss to ask you if this comes up again, make sure you say yes every now and then. If you tell a coworker to go ask Mary, make sure Mary won’t come looking for you later.

Let’s put it all together. It would sound something like this:

“Hey, you know we’re throwing a party for Susie in accounting who’s leaving the company. Everyone’s pitching in $10 to buy her a big going away present. Can I count on you?”

Here’s how the no sounds using the four-step diplomatic decline:

“Boy, Mary that sounds like a great idea and under normal circumstances I might, however unfortunately I can’t because I’m on a strict budget, and that’s just not in it. But ask me if something like this comes up again in about six months and I’ll see if I can fit it into my budget.”

“Ahh, how about just $5?”

“Again, Mary unfortunately I can’t because I’m on a strict budget and that’s just not in it, but ask me if something like this comes up again in about six months and I’ll see if I can fit it into my budget.”

“Please..it’s just a few bucks.”

“Again, Mary unfortunately I can’t because I’m on a strict budget and that’s not in it, but ask me again if something like this comes up again in six months and I will see if I can fit it into my budget.”

How long do you think that would continue? The moment that you say something different you have to start back at square one. What’s funny about the broken record is that when the other person hears you say no they might not take it seriously the first time. When they push it and you give them the no the second time, they’ll think to themselves, “Gosh isn’t that what they just said a minute ago?” When you give it the third time people recognize that you’re going to keep saying the same thing over and over.

You’ll have trained them that your no means no.  Let’s try again with the boss who wants you to work late.

“Hey, Charlie you know I’m really in a bind and I need someone to stay after work tonight for a few hours and I’m really counting on you. So what do you say?”

“Oh, you know Mr. Jones, I know that you must really be in a bind and under normal circumstances I would, however unfortunately I can’t because I’ve made other plans and I simply can’t break them. But maybe I could come in early. Would that work for you?”

“Oh, no I really need that done tonight. Can’t you stay just this one time? I’m really counting on you.”

”Boy, I know you must really be in a bind to ask me like this, and under normal circumstances I would, however unfortunately I can’t because I’ve made other plans, and I simply can’t break them. Maybe I could come in early. Would that work for you?”

The boss might even be so bold as to say, “What are you doing?” And you could reply, “Well that’s interesting, why would you ask?” He responds, “Because I’m really in a bind.” Now you reiterate, “I can really appreciate that and again, under normal circumstances I would, however tonight unfortunately I can’t.”

Now how long do you think that would go on? Using this technique helps you say no so that people hear it. It softens it and it trains people that you aren’t like most other communicators–namely ineffective. You’re different. Your no means no.

There are times when diplomacy (the diplomatic decline) is not required, but being forceful is–The Broken Record is just the ticket.

Having said this, there are some times when it isn’t necessary to be so diplomatic. For example, some coworkers who will never contribute to your personal or professional development ask you to go out with them for drinks after work. When you tell the average American that you can’t do something, they’ll ask you why.  I’m going to give you a tactical phrase that I want you to memorize and use in those situations. It is, “I simply can’t.” It’s actually a two-step process. When someone asks you for your time or your money and you aren’t really too concerned about being diplomatic, you say the first time, “No I can’t,” which prompts most people to say, “Why?” Then you respond by saying, “Because I simply can’t.”

Watch in amazement how people will say, “Oh okay I understand!” and then leave you alone. If they push it, what do you do? The broken record: “I simply can’t. I simply can’t. I simply can’t.”

It’s amazing how many uses you’ll find for the assertive tools that we just learned and you’ll find that they not only give you the results that you desire, but that they help get you those results with much less stress, and other people will feel good about helping meet your needs.

The diplomatic decline script will be useless to you if you don’t practice it. When you need them the most, when the situation is most dramatic, you will recall these scripts and phrases if you’ve rehearsed them. If you practice what you’ve learned your responses will become automatic.  Savvy communicators are like ice skaters. Ice skaters just make it look easy when they twirl around the ice and flip around. They make it look really easy and smooth and polished but it all comes from practice and repetition. Practice and repeat these phrases and use these tools and you too can give the appearance of being a polished, savvy, assertive communicator.

I hope that helps! And remember, if you need a keynote speaker or on-site communication training, let me know, and I’ll find the right motivational speaker or trainer for you, even if it’s not me!


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Do you want to learn more about communication training that can help you become a more powerful, assertive, direct communicator? Communication that can change your life? Go to https://danoconnortraining.com/store/and check out Dan’s audios and videos, along with his 50-lesson comprehensive communication training course.

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Dan O’Connor has been leading the communication training industry for more than 20 years. Through his bestselling books, his #1 rated YouTube channel, and his online courses, Dan transforms the global conversation and the lives of countless individuals every day.

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