Completely drained and in tears, I realized I had been doing a terrible job setting boundaries. My time was no longer my own because every time someone needed me I said, “Yes”. It wasn’t that people intentionally violated my boundaries, it was that I was teaching them do it, allowing them to do it.  I practically laid down a welcome mat that read, “Please take advantage of me.” That was several years ago, and I knew I needed to take some of my own communication medicine.

From time to time I slip back into my people-pleasing habits and need a reminder. Feeling a little slippage recently, I sought motivation to put a stop to it and found this podcast by Lindsay Lapaquette: Building Better Boundaries for Success in Business with Monique Caissie.

A couple points by her guest Monique really spoke to me:

  • Assertive language lives in the middle of passivity and aggression.
  • Say no in a firm, respectful way.

I think Monique is right on! As a communication consultant myself, I asked myself what tools do I teach my client’s so that they set good, healthy boundaries (ahem … and that can serve as a reminder for myself too)?  I know! It is the Diplomatic No.

Here is how to do it in an assertive, firm, respectful way.

VROA. Okay, maybe that doesn’t make total sense, but it just might help you remember the four steps of a Diplomatic No.

V alidate

R eason

O ptions

A ction

Now, let’s apply an all-too-familiar situation to see what the Diplomatic No looks like in action.

SITUATION:  Your coworker asks, “Can you help me with X?”

V alidate

Use the Agreement Frame

I appreciate … and …

I understand … and …

I respect … and …

I agree … and …

Yes … and …

“I understand you are feeling overloaded, and …”

R eason 

Give an honest explanation for the No.

“… I am feeling overloaded myself.”

O ptions

Offer 2-3 options if possible

“If I were you, I’d ask our boss for an extension on the deadline. Otherwise, if it can wait until Thursday, I can probably help for about a half an hour.”

A ction

Communicate the action do you need him/her to take.

“If you decide you’d like my help on Thursday, let me know before the end of today so I can block time on my calendar.”

What you might have noticed is that naughty word BUT is NOT used.  Use the word and instead for a much more diplomatic response.


It is time to speak your own Diplomatic No!  If you need to start easy, maybe try saying a Diplomatic No to ice cream after dinner. Wait! If you love ice cream like me, that is way too hard for a Diplomatic No first-timer. Pick something easier or choose something difficult if you are courageous enough.

Let me know how it went! Comment below.



Learn more about assertive communication – it’s what I call POWerful communication.

Say What You Mean