Shift “No, But” to “Yes, If”

We’ve all been there. Someone asks you a question or sends you a request and it’s not achievable, whether it’s lack of time, money or responsibility. Your immediate reaction is to say “No, but…” and offer an alternative solution.

Here’s the problem. If you ever hear the word “No” in answer to a question you’ve asked, you know you don’t hear anything past that word. You shut down and are disheartened by whatever follows the “but”.

Sandwiching the “no, but” between positive comments pre and post doesn’t really help either, it can just make you feel like whatever else said was insincere.

So what should we do instead? Because, let’s be clear it is absolutely important to learn how to say “no” too.

Yes, If…

What we can do is give a “yes” that includes boundaries and targets that fit our schedules.

So let’s try to frame our “No, but” into a “Yes, if…” instead.

For example, if your manager was to ask you if you could pull a new proposal document together by the end of the week but you were very busy, try saying “Yes, if you are happy that [other project] I’m currently working on to be delivered the later than planned” or even just, “Yes I can do it, if you are happy to wait for next Wednesday for it”. This then sparks a conversation about your other priorities and workload to come up with a solution that fits both parties.

Or, if a client asks if they can add something else into their project within the same budget, a response could look like “Yes, if you’re happy to wait an extra week for the final product” or “Yes, if you are happy for just 1 set of amends on creative work instead of 2”. This helps them to understand the pressures and look at what the key objectives of the project are.

This work much better, because when you respond by saying the word “yes” people feel heard and valued. And if they feel more positive, it means they are much more likely to get onboard with the objectives you set and spark more conversation and creativity around how to actually reach the goal. This in turn leads to further trust between you and the person.

Putting it into practise

It will be much easier on email or message to adapt your train of thought to use this new response.

Shifting your answer to “Yes, if” on a call or face to face will take more thought, so don’t give your answer immediately. Take time to really hear the suggestion and repeat it in your head, before working out how to set up your answer more positively.

Try doing it for a day, and just see how it changes everyone’s attitude. We’re sure you’ll soon adopt it into your everyday life.


For more tips on how to be an effective leader take a look at our different programmes and courses we have on offer.

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