Try to go a whole day without starting a sentence with "No..." It's really hard.
Along with the ever popular phrase "no, but..." (and the occasional need to swear), "no" is often a reaction as much as an answer.
"No" is as ubiquitous as "um.." We use the word to buy time, create space and consider options. While I am a firm believer in using "no" when necessary or true, it does not help me in the kazillion situations at work where I want to say it but feeling awkward about it.
Here's I say no at work:
"Flattered that you think you need my help! What exactly do you believe I can contribute? Or does this just need an immediate warm body?" (I didn't say no, I just made it harder for them to dump and run. Unless they can answer the question and then I know I'm genuinely needed)
"That sounds like something I don't know how to do. Will you be sitting with me while I do it?" (Same as above and I'm ok with looking out of my depth some times)
"Excellent. I can do that in about 3 weeks. If you need it faster, you might have to find someone else?" (Either I'm the right person to do it or they just need a warm body...)
"Sure, I can do that. X and X will go on hold till I'm done. Let me know if we have sign off to delay before I start?" (Seriously, this works)
"No. I appreciate your need, I really do. I am not the right person/ timing is poor / etc." (Some days one just says "no"... without a but...)
Any other good ideas out there?
PS> For a great perspective on how to use the word "no" effectively, start with Barbara Coloroso and her take on parenting with the word "no."