How To Say No While Building Rapport - The Key To Maintaining Motivation & Innovation In Your Team!


As a 16 year old boy, I joined the Royal Navy as a helicopter technician. In the first few years I really didn’t have any understanding of what it was to be a leader, or in fact, how it felt to work under one… Later in my career, I began my studies in business, psychology, and later coaching, which opened up my mind to asking the question ‘what makes a good leader?’

As I started asking this and noticing the characteristics of the leaders around me, my leadership changed, and I was introduced to a Commander who was the subject of my curiosity for the rest of the time I worked at that unit. This gentleman was a very different leader than I had previously encountered. But what made him so different?

Just to give you an idea, previous people in his position had demonstrated a genuine sense of dismissal, and at times contempt for junior members of the department. Often being either inaccessible, or simply rude based on how little authority you had on your shoulders. They seldom asked for your opinion, and thought little of setting a task that would keep you all there until the small hours, while heading off home to leave you to it.

So when this Commander approached us with humility, accessibility, gratitude, and with a genuine interest in getting to know each and every one of us, you can imagine my interest. He held our attention, and he made us feel like we wanted to work hard for him. This was the best example of a good leader I had at this time, and for this blog post I am going to share just one technique he used. For me, I believe this is a solid tool for any manager’s tool kit.

How to say no, while building rapport.

I would approach him with an idea about the department, suggesting that instead of doing X would he consider doing Y? To which he would reply “Thank you for taking the time to come to me with this, I appreciate it, let me think about it and I’ll get back to you, is that OK?”

For me that was all I needed to feel validated and appreciated. And even when he would catch me in passing the next day and say “I had a think about it, and while I see where you’re coming from, I don’t think it will be the best approach for us to take right now, thank you and keep coming up with ideas!”

While so many of us hear an idea and say no within a few seconds or minutes of hearing it, which to me indicates that I wasn’t really open to exploring an idea fully and was potentially dismissive, which is demotivating to the best of us. I now see that even if he wanted to say no there and then, he didn’t. He let me feel like he was really thinking about it. Therefore, when he said no, in his kind way, I thought to myself “At least he gave it some thought, there must be a valid reason for not doing it”. I felt validated and appreciated!

I liked him more, even when he said no. How could you implement this into your life? Perhaps with partners? colleagues? staff members?

Thanks for reading!

James Segal