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Issue: Novenber/December 2013
Communication Connection
By: Serita Maybin

"If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."  That's what we've all been told from a very early age! 

Yet, we've all experienced situations where we've been asked our opinion and had nothing nice to say.  For example, a colleague asks a potentially incriminating question:  "What do you think about that new meeting planner?"  or "What do you think about the CEO's new (controversial) policy?"

The list of potential gossip-inducing questions is endless.  However, the outcome is always the same:  Anything you say can and will be used against you!

As a communication speaker/trainer, I've traveled the globe over the past 20 years doing keynotes and workshops at companies and conferences on how to handle tough communication situations and work together better!

Here are a few of my favorite options for responding in a constructive way when you have a not-so-nice opinion:
Option #1: Non-response

In this instance you choose not to take the bait.  You can make non-committal responses such as:

  • "I've been too busy to even think about it."
  • "I haven't even given him much thought."
  • "I'm not even going to go there!"

Option #2: Throw it Back

Typically, when someone asks "what do YOU think?," he or she has a strong opinion on the subject.  You can capitalize on that, and avoid their trap by responding:

  • "Sounds like you have some thoughts.  What do YOU think?"

Or, combine option # 1 and #2 by saying:

  • "I haven't given it much thought.  What's YOUR opinion?"

Option #3:  Focus on the positive

You can stay out of trouble by focusing on the positive aspect of something.  A long list of negative things about a person or situation may come to mind, however there's always at least a positive thing or two.  For example, if someone asks your opinion on the new boss, you can identify a couple strengths you've noticed:

  • "I have to admit, he really is organized and good at goal setting."

I should point out that there are times when friends and colleagues legitimately ask for and want our feedback.   The important thing here is to be as honest as possible without being harsh.  In these cases, we can use a version of Option #3 by focusing on the positive.

Here are some examples of how you can focus on the positive by offering constructive suggestions:

Someone asks you: "What did you think of my presentation?"

You're thinking:  "It was monotone & boring."  

Instead say: "I think that adding a little more inflection in your voice and a couple personal stories would be great!"

Someone asks you: "What do you think of my idea?
You're thinking:   "Dumbest idea I've ever heard!"

Instead say:  "I'm concerned that the strategy may not succeed because of our limited budget.  How can you overcome that?"

By the way, these strategies can be useful outside of the workplace too. When my 21-year old daughter was a teenager she sometimes effectively used my own strategies…on ME!  I remember asking her opinion on a new outfit I was wearing.  Her tastes and mine differ greatly, so that could have been a losing proposition.  She promptly responded using the throw-it-back option:

"Mom, the important thing is what YOU think of your new outfit!"

There you have it…if you can't say something nice, there may be something to say after all! In my next column, I'll be sharing "3 Ways to Say NO Nicely!"

Sarita Maybin is a communication expert, international speaker and author of the book "If You Can't Say Something Nice, What DO You Say?" available in paperback and Kindle on To view her TEDx Talk or book her to speak at your next event please visit: .
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