Saying no

Von Stefan Kühn

Light-heartedly saying no is a problem for a lot of people. The consequences are well known: Whenever we give in against our better judgement, it is as if we are laying out a doormat and encouraging people to walk all over us over and over again. This is certain doom in negotiations.

Greater assertiveness would therefore benefit a lot of people. Studies prove that people who are more assertive achieve objectives better and are more satisfied with their job. Good assertiveness requires you to avoid disagreement and rejection because an incorrectly conveyed put-down may lead to conflicts. People who attach little importance to the opinion of others may find saying no easier, yet the results are not necessarily any better. It is often difficult for them to be assertive without acting coldly or aggressively.


  • No doesn’t need any justification. If it does, you should keep the reason for the rejection brief, e.g.: “I am sorry, but I simply do not have any time.”
  • Anyone who feels uncomfortable when saying no should not only practise the content of their rejection and the manner in which this is conveyed both conceptually and also expressively. Thinking about how someone will react and how it would be possible to respond to this gives additional peace of mind.
  • Alternatives which satisfy both parties build bridges and lead to new solutions.
  • You should not apologise unnecessarily. It is worth reminding yourself that the decision lies only with you.
  • If there is uncertainty, body language is particularly important: Direct eye contact, upright posture, a deep calm voice and, when saying no, shaking your head and not nodding.
  • If you would help someone in other circumstances, it is best to couch the “No” in warm words: “I understand your dilemma, but I do not currently have the resources to deal with your request effectively.”
  • The Yes/No/Yes formula has proven itself. Here, you sandwich the negative response between two affirmative statements: “I greatly appreciate this direct dialogue. Further discounts are not possible in the current situation. From the middle of the year, we would be pleased to check whether and in what form further optimisations are possible.”
  • For bossy people who do not have much to spare for sentimentality, it is important to recognise that the line between assertiveness and aggression is small. Assertiveness does not mean intimidating or threatening someone, let alone being loud. This is equally true for your tone of voice and body language.

About the author

Stefan Kühn
Negotiation expert

Stefan Kühn is a senior international negotiator, mediator and facilitator and experienced in high-risk and high-stakes negotiations in sensitive markets. He successfully conducts national and international multi-party negotiations and consults businesses, organizations and governmental bodies in demanding and conflicting situations. Stefan Kühn graduated from Harvard University and Oxford Saïd Business School and holds a Master of Science in Negotiation and Conflict Resolution and an MBA.