Need to say “No”? Have a sandwich.

As service professionals, we’re programmed to say “Yes” to pretty much everything.

This isn’t a bad thing when we’re first starting out and it behooves* us to be accommodating. But the time will come when we need to push back. When we must decline, refuse, confront.

The good news is that saying “No”, diplomatically and with tact, is a skill you can learn.

First off, don’t sugar-coat your message. Don’t tiptoe. Don’t slide into ‘seems’ and ‘appears’ and ‘might’ and ‘maybe’ (I call these “hedgies”) and these can cause confusion.

Gather your facts. Take 10 deep breaths. Be clear. And use the sandwich technique to soften your delivery.

The sandwich consists of:

The top slice of bread
A neutral buffer, leading into an unemotional, factual summary of the situation.

The meat
The main point you need to communicate; i.e. the No or the bad news.

The bottom slice of bread
Where you end on a neutral or positive note, or offer a compromise as your exit.

Here’s a quick example:

Bread #1:
“Hi [Name]. Thanks for sending through the brief. I’ve given it a lot of thought….”

“…and I don’t think this is going to be a fit. We’re too far apart on the turn-around time. I’d love to help you but I’m going to have to pass this time.”

Bread #2:
“I have a colleague who’s done a lot of this kind of work. I think she’d be perfect for this project if she’s available. Would you like me to connect you?”

And there you have it. Go forth and practise.

Have a lekker day.

* Yep. I really did use the word “behooves”. I’ve always wanted to. Here’s a definition for you: verb, FORMAL, 3rd person present: ‘It is appropriate or suitable; it befits.’ You’re welcome.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Safrea or its members.


One Response

  1. I love “behooves”. It sounds elegant, old-worldly and educated. It behooves us to aspire to, at the very least, have people believe that we are educated.
    As to the “sandwich” – I have used “Thanks George. I appreciate your thinking of me and offering this job to me, but the work which you require and the rate which you seek to pay is an insult to a professional … (insert writer/editor …), as the meat. It might seem harsh, but some clients need a little slap in the face or a splash of ice water to make them realise and appreciate your worth.

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