Using Empathy when You Must Say “No”

By Jeremiah Gore

“We are two weeks from closing and you want what added to your home?”

“We are halfway through building your home, and you want to add a second floor?”

While these may be extreme examples of late requests we get from our customers, we all have to say “no” at some point. When you have to say “no” to something someone else wants, it can be challenging to strike the right balance between being empathetic and assertive.

However, empathy in your response can help the other person feel heard and valued, even if they don’t get what they want. 

When I think of empathy, I think of Brené Brown, a researcher, author, and humorous speaker. She has written extensively about empathy and its importance in building strong relationships and connections with others. According to Brown, empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. Here are some of her key ideas about empathy:

  • Empathy is different from sympathy: Brown emphasizes that empathy is not the same as sympathy, which involves feeling sorry for someone else. Instead, empathy involves truly understanding the other person’s perspective and feelings.
  • Empathy requires vulnerability: Brown argues that empathy requires vulnerability because it involves opening oneself up to another person’s feelings and experiences. In order to truly empathize with someone, we must be willing to let go of our own judgments and biases and be fully present with them.
  • Empathy is essential for strong relationships: Brown argues that empathy is essential for building strong, healthy relationships with others. When we are empathetic, we create a safe and supportive space for others to share their thoughts and feelings, which can strengthen our connections and deepen our understanding of one another.
  • Empathy requires practice: Brown emphasizes that empathy is a skill that can be developed through practice. This means actively listening to others, being present with them, and showing genuine interest in their experiences.

Overall, Brown believes that empathy is a powerful force for creating connections and building strong relationships. By practicing empathy, we can create a more compassionate and understanding world.

Now that we have a good understanding of what empathy means; here are some tips on how to use empathy when you have to answer “no” to something someone else wants:

  • Put yourself in their shoes: Try to understand the other person’s perspective and feelings. Empathize with their desire or need for what they are asking for, and acknowledge the effort they put into asking you.
  • Express your understanding: Let the person know that you understand why they want what they’re asking for. Acknowledge their feelings and validate them. Use statements such as, “I understand that you really want this” or “I can see how important this is to you.”
  • Be honest and direct: It’s essential to be honest and direct in your response. Explain why you are unable to grant their request. Be specific and clear, but avoid being confrontational or defensive.

    Use statements such as, “Unfortunately, I’m not able to accommodate your request right now” or “I’m sorry, but I have other commitments that prevent me from helping you.”

Remember that empathy does not mean that you have to agree with someone or say yes to their request. It means you understand and value their feelings and perspective while standing your ground. Using empathy in your response can make the other person feel heard, valued, and respected, even when you have to say “no.”

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About the Author: Jeremiah Gore

From acquisitions to development to marketing to sales to construction and warranty, Jeremiah has been a part and led teams in all aspects of the buyers’ home building journey. He now brings that experience to Shore Consulting. Starting with a BBA in Business Management and an MS in Land Development, Jeremiah has been in sales and construction, land acquisition and development, and division management. He sees each role from a comprehensive view and breaks down barriers that can so often be built between departments. Challenging the status quo within the construction and operations teams is his primary focus though you will catch him in front of a sales team when he gets the chance.