The Gentle Art of Saying “NO”

At times we are asked a direct question, to which we have an answer that will turn-off the person asking. This often occurs during a job interview. How do can you say “NO” without directly saying “NO”?

If your response starts off with “NO”, whatever you say after that no one hears. The reason is that you already answered the question and your answer was “NO”; the rest does not matter.  But if you respond by telling a reason why “NO” occurred, your chances for being heard and understood are greater.

For example you might be applying for a faculty position and are asked if you have taught a specific course, which you have not taught. If you answer with just “NO”, you don’t know where this question was heading to, and you lost “points” with the faculty search committee. But what if you said “In the past I have taught similar academic courses, including (naming a few), and I would not expect teaching this course to present any challenges to me.” Now you have said “NO” without saying “NO”.

The added benefit to this type of response is it allows you open the door and learn why the question was asked. You could continue your response with “Does teaching this course present an academic challenge to the department or school?” Now you are trying to dig into the reason why this question was originally asked. If the university has had problems with students failing to master the skills covered in this course, you can expand on how you have overcome some similar academic challenges in the past, and relate it to the current issues at the university you are interviewing.

Without saying “No, I have not taught this course”, you have been successfully able to uncover specific problems or challenges facing this subject/department/university and be able to provide a strong response as to how you would manage the perceived problems and help the department/university overcome this issue.


Rich Gerstin is the founder of The Asheforde Group and is the head of math department at Brown Mackie College, Atlanta

Share in LinkedIn facebook Email to a friend Bookmark this page Print
Sign up to receive bi-weekly newsletters with job search information