As a mediator, I should want you to say yes. But sometimes, no is the right answer: when the deal is unfair or when it cannot be done.  Sometimes by saying no in the right way you can actually help the parties to come to a yes.  Indeed, many times a person needs to say no to the other side to demonstrate the limits of what is being requested.  If a person is constantly asking for more, a no is mandatory if you want the deal to take place and be fair.

Toni Bernhard wrote an article about saying no in Psychology Today. She writes about being stressed out after she became dean of the law school at University of California – Davis because she spent too much time trying to help students (she just couldn’t say no to them).  She later started meditation to try to relax and started reading Buddhist texts.  One text she found stated:

One day the Buddha told a story about an acrobat and his assistant. The acrobat erected a bamboo pole and told his assistant to climb up it and stand on his shoulders. Then the acrobat said to his assistant: “Now you watch after me and I’ll watch after you. This way we can show off our skill and come down safely from the pole.”

But the assistant replied: “That won’t do teacher. You watch after yourself and I’ll watch after myself and in that way we can show off our skill and come down safely from the pole.”

The Buddha said: “What the assistant said is right in this case because when one watches after oneself, one watches after others.”

By watching out for my own beliefs and not compromising them, I can look out for others. You can too.

There are times when you should, or must, say no.  Either you’re being asked to do the impossible or you simply don’t want to do what’s being asked.  If you have to say no (in an example where a friend asks to borrow your car), here are some tips from Judith Mills, Ph.D., in Psychology Today.

I prefer to be the only one driving my car.“

I prefer not to lend out my car.”

It doesn’t work for me to lend out my car.”

It’s important to me that I keep my car for my own use.”

Unfortunately, I’m not going to be able to lend you my car.”

I’m uncomfortable with letting others drive my car.“

I made a promise to myself that I’m not going to let other people drive my car.”

All of the examples above are “I” or “it” statements, which are more difficult to dispute. If someone is persistent, keep repeating “no” using any combination of the “I” and “it” statements above. Hold your ground until the person realizes you mean what you say.

You can also use the “sandwich” method to gently turn down a person. You start with a positive statement, state “no” diplomatically in the middle, then conclude with another positive statement. For example: “I understand you need a car this weekend. Unfortunately, I’m really not comfortable lending my car. Hope you can find another arrangement.”

No one can live their life or practice their profession by only saying yes to every request or demand. By saying no the right way, you can navigate through your negotiations, profession, relationships and your life with your head held high.