Leadership Strategies: When is it better to make waves and say NO?

communication skills

Summary: Saying NO often causes extreme stress. It is one of the essential words in any language. Here are practical communication skills that keep you strong when NO is the correct response.

Dear Dr. Sylvia,

I have so much trouble saying no. I don’t like to upset the apple cart, rock the boat, be unpopular.

Now that I am in an executive position, I find my “pleaser” personality is getting in the way. I’m not getting things done soon enough or with enough buy-in from my team.

I have the same issue at home. My husband asks for just about anything, and I say YES.

My kids want more from me even when I am at my limit, and I say YES.

In a nutshell, my communication skills are lacking. They suck!

Swans (and you) only look calm on the surface

While I get angry internally, I look so calm and pleasant to the world.

I’m like that swan floating on the water, beautiful and calm outside, yet, paddling like crazy under the water.

My stress level is usually in the red alert zone.

I need some practical communication skills to help in even saying the word NO out loud.


Needs to Change

The power of NO

Dear Needs a Change,

Firstly, you need to go back to an earlier time in your life, way back, to the terrible twos. That is when every little toddler loves to experiment with the work NO.

For instance, that is how they were attempting to understand practical communication skills.

Think back. Can you remember even one time when you were little, and you said NO to something? Did you get praised or punished?

Can’t remember? Then consider how you handle when your children say NO.

What do you do? Praise, punish, or ignore?

Oh yes, in your email, you said you choked on the word NO. Same with your husband. And sadly, same with your staff.

When YES is not working

When is it better to ‘make waves and say ‘NO’ rather than go along with what is said?

The art of practical communication skills involves both active listening and telling the truth appropriately.

Here is some critical learning about the impact of the simple word ‘NO’ as one key to success.

Most importantly, show you are in charge.

For example, when time issues have everyone complaining, be the one to say, “There has to be a better way.” Then add, “NO, we can’t keep doing what we’re doing the way we are doing it.”

Also, as the leader, say NO with solid and transparent conviction. That will help everyone be ready to shift to Plan B.

Stop the office politics

Often co-workers want you to side with them. It’s a natural tendency left over from the schoolyard where cliques form and caused dissonance. If you show even the slightest interest in the gossip, you lose.

You can soon find yourself in the middle of that horror. So, say NO, you don’t want to hear the latest about who’s not getting along now.

Be an example of gravity

Think of No as a gravity word. Here is what I mean.

Throw a ball in the air, and it will soon fall to the ground. Why? Gravity, of course. Throw the ball, and it may hit someone if they don’t move away. Why? It’s the gravity, of course.

You see, gravity does its thing. It doesn’t care if anyone is in the way or not. Choose to move or get that bop on the head.

Therefore when you say NO and mean it, that is the time for others to choose how to respond.

Be the change you hope for: When you set the example by listening without interrupting, using short, straightforward sentences, and voicing your suggestions effectively, you will find people coming to you for advice.

They will also begin to model your brand of shorter, more transparent communication. A direct ‘NO’ can keep business situations on track without wasting time defending, explaining, or justifying your position.

Move from pleaser to truth teller

The behavior types that have the most difficulty saying ‘NO’ are the pleasers, martyrs, rescuers, and super achievers. Think about it for a moment, how hard is it for you to tell someone the NO word?

Do you ever think you will disappoint someone by not agreeing with them and telling them so? Is it more important to be liked than to be right? All leadership development programs should have a section on what it means to say NO.

Often, outdated patterns keep you from speaking up. Learn more in my book “Don’t Bring It To Work.”

Once you can become strong enough to say NO with confidence, your leadership abilities will soar.

Here’s to your success,


P.S. Take the leadership behavior quiz to see which patterns keep you from being clear and consistent in your skills. And please remember that “NO IS A COMPLETE SENTENCE.”

Creative Energy Options

Sylvia Lafair

Creative Energy Options