A skill we all have as SBM - how to say no nicely.

5 May 2021 | by Tracie Darke

In my office, my computer often says no! Sorry, an old ‘Little Britain’ reference to start us off.

But sadly, this is so true, as the School Business Manager (SBM - or other title – my current one is Director of Finance & Resources, but really, I still am the SBM) we are the last resort for many and it is up to us to be the person that says no. I often get told ‘I say no nicely’, so how can we say no while keeping trust and motivation.

Saying “no” can be difficult because you do not want to upset people. As the SBM you might be worried about what they will think of you as a manager or how they will react, especially if they are known to be anxious or the opposite, they can be angry out of frustration. Or maybe you will lose their favour.

As the SBM we normally say no because it’s about the lack of money or unplanned expenditure, so the ‘no’ is due to lack of planning, so as not in the School Improvement Plan (SIP) and therefore not costed and in your budget. And it can be because it has not been thought out and is now overbudget and there simply is no extra funds for it during this Academic Year. This is a classic ‘no’ and a transfer of actions to the person asking, to either speak to Head of School, or to write a business case for inclusion in next year’s SIP.

There are other ‘Nos’ that are regarding H&S, or use of facilities, overtime, supply cover etc. But how do we say no nicely?

“Cushion it with kindness or a compliment”.

I can’t say I compliment often, but I do try and be kind, I show appreciation for them seeing me and taking the time.

“Give your reasons”.

This is my preference, explaining why I am saying no, so they understand it’s not personal, it’s just I am protecting the school.

“Be brief, but not brusque”.

Experience gives you the confidence that you do not always need to tell the staff member why you are saying no, and that some would rather just rather receive a straight no, as opposed to someone ‘fobbing’ them off with a ‘maybe’. A simple ‘sorry but we can’t do that’ can be what is needed, another skill of the SBM is to assess the audience (quickly). Using words like ‘sadly’ to illustrate that we know this is disappointing to them.

“Leave the door cracked”.

Another word to lessen the blow is ‘sorry I can’t do that right now’ it gives the staff member (and yourself) time to revisit the request, but only use this when you think you do want to possibly think about it or do it in the future. As otherwise we could be seen as giving out false hope, and in a professional relationship that’s the last thing we want to do.

“Offer an alternative”.

This is often the preferred ‘go – to’ as it’s a way of demonstrating you appreciate them and that you are taking them seriously, through explaining the current state of school finance/HR/lettings etc and how best they could try to find an alternative solution. Give them a plan B.

Ultimately, I would consider that I am a kind and considerate person, but as a SBM I hold responsibility for the financial stability and the safety of the pupils, I know that decisions I take help to create an environment where the students excel and fulfil their potential, so saying ‘no’ is a necessity at times. And one I do nicely.