How to Say “NO” With Options!


by Michelle Wahl, CAPP

How many times have you heard, “No, I am sorry, that is not an option,” in the parking realm?  When a different response could be, “While this is not a legal way to park, please let me provide you with other options so you won’t get cited again in the future. ”

Honestly, what would you rather hear?   No without options, or no you can’t park like this but you can do these other things to avoid getting cited? Second option every time!

In my more than 20 years of parking and customer service experience, when you can provide options with your “no” it often takes the sting away.  It also changes the trajectory of conversation to a more positive direction.  Oftentimes you are trying to navigate the conversation to a more manageable level instead of using unfortunate words that can be used improperly.  If it works correctly, you now have the individual’s full attention, actively listening, engaged, and wanting to understand their options.

Honestly, everyone has at one point in their life received superior customer service and unfortunately, you most likely have also received not-so-superior customer service.   I do believe the saying “seek first to understand” the situation.  We must listen and be prepared to offer options!

While at times the options you provide won’t fix their situation (because the word “free” isn’t an option), they will feel like they have more choices and you have done your best to educate them so they will make better choices in the future.

The next time you are dealing with a difficult situation or an upset customer and the answer has to be no, try to change the direction of the conversation. Try to at least provide different options to educate them on why it is important to comply.  A motto I embraced early on in my parking career was, “Parking can’t be free, but it will be friendly!”

Michelle L. Wahl, CAPP, is the Parking Services Director for the City of Bloomington, IN. She can be reached at