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The Teaching Space Podcast

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Dec 13, 2018

Episode 41 of The Teaching Space Podcast explores some strategies to help teachers and trainers in saying “no”.


This is the show I promised you in episode 37 - we will be exploring strategies for saying “no”.

To avoid doubt we are focusing on saying “no” to colleagues when the right answer is “no” even though we feel like we should say “yes” and often do.

Why Should We Say “No” Sometimes?

If you Google “say no motivational quotes” you’ll find a whole heap of Instagram-worthy cheesiness answering this question. Normally I steer clear of this sort of thing but actually I found a few (un-attributed) crackers:

  • Saying NO often means you can say YES to things that really matter.

  • Sometimes you need to say NO to others to say YES to yourself.

I thought these were so good I’ve made them into Instagram graphics for you to share as a reminder to yourself and others. Please free to use them in any way you like. You need not sign up to get them or anything - just right click and save the image.

Here are more quotes from famous people

  • Steve Jobs: “Focusing is about saying ‘no.’”

  • Warren Buffett: “We need to learn the slow ‘yes’ and the quick ‘no.’”

  • Tony Blair: “The art of leadership is saying no, not saying yes. It is easy to say yes.”

Why is it SO Difficult?

We are teachers and trainers. Our job is to help people and usually, saying no isn’t perceived as helpful. The trouble is that being selfless is not, in the long run, going to do you any good.

Most of us avoid conflict and ultimately we want to people please.


How to Say No

One of the main purposes of The Teaching Space Podcast is to help you focus on YOU as we spend so much time focused on others. 

Here are some suggested strategies for saying no:

  • Use the word “no”. Say it clearly. Leave no room for doubt. Don’t waffle. Say it straight away.

  • Try following your “no” with a “because”. That “because” can help the “no” be better understood.

  • Offer an alternative: “no I cannot do this for you but what I can do is…”

  • Acknowledge how the other person will feel when you say “no” but still say it. Empathise. Validate that person’s feelings. “You will be upset and disappointed but…”

  • Use the broken record technique. This is usually best deployed in a more heated discussion. You repeat your “no”. For example: “no, this simply cannot happen today, no, as I explained…”

  • Use your body language and your facial expression, to reinforce your “no”.

  • In our recent episode about setting boundaries with colleagues we talked about how to react when you are asked to do something you consider unreasonable. Rather than breaking down and saying “I am so stressed - I can’t cope with this on top of the million other things I have to do today”, explain “if I do this now then X will not get completed - what is your preference?” This is not a direct “no” but it is a useful strategy nevertheless.

  • In the same episode we covered the win-win technique. This is also a great “no” strategy with alternatives. Example: if a colleague asks “do you have a minute to talk about something?” and you are in a state of flow with marking, offer a response that offers two wins. “I’d love to talk to you. I can speak to you at 10am when I am on my break or at 4pm when I have finished teaching. What would you prefer?”

Just to be really clear, I am not recommending you say “no” to everything! 

My Experience

I’ve become good at instinctively knowing what to say “no” to and then using the appropriate strategy. That’s why I feel well placed to record this episode. As such, coming up with an example of my own experience has been tricky as they are my “normal”.

However, a broad example would be the year I decided I needed to say “no” to working full-time hours. This was for medical reasons and I used the consequences strategy to explain. I then negotiated different hours and the whole transaction was smooth and painless with everyone winning.

Wrap Up

If you enjoyed the episode, then please consider leaving a positive review on Apple Podcasts or your preferred podcast directory. This helps more teachers and trainers find the podcast when they search. Thank you.