…if you can’t say ‘No’
It seems the hardest thing to do in business these days is to say ‘No’ to someone else. We can think of plenty of times we regret saying ‘Yes’ when we knew damn well it was going to mess up our current priorities, or worse, put us in a position to be less effective than we are capable of. Let me just put it out there now; ‘No’ is a legitimate response in any business if it is, in fact, the appropriate response for the situation. While most would agree to this fact intellectually, the majority still struggle with actually doing so! Why is that?
As a business leader, part of the art of the profession is making effective knowledge-based decisions. A crucial ingredient to this decision-making process is listening to insights from those who work for you; including insights that may disagree with your own thoughts on the topic. If your culture is such that it is not safe to disagree, to say ‘No’ with a platform to state an opposing view, the final decision will be flawed. As the expression goes, “If all you hear from your team is ‘Yes’ then one of you is redundant.” Leaders must be secure enough to let ‘No’ be an answer just as easily as ‘Yes’.
Non-profit leaders struggle with this idea probably more than others in my experience due to the very altruistic nature of their industry. Their Mission-centric world is about helping others and saying ‘Yes’ to every request for help and assistance. Saying ‘Yes’ and over- committing the organization beyond its capabilities puts the credibility of the leader at risk. Eventually their ‘Yes” loses its meaning as the tile of this post suggests. Knowing when to say ‘No’ for the health of the organization or agency is crucial to its ability to continue to execute its Mission.
Sometimes, we have to say ‘No’ to customers! What amazes me is how often a business owner or business-unit leader will say ‘Yes’ to a customer out of fear of offending them, knowing full well they just put other customers in jeopardy! Of course, I am not referring to the occasional out-of-the-box request or true crisis that comes along and must be dealt with accordingly. I am speaking to the habit of saying ‘Yes’ merely out of fear and likely not knowing how to say ‘No’ without actually saying the word ‘No’
‘No’ is an appropriate answer as a business leader when the situation calls for it. Learning to say ‘No’ without using the word ‘No’ in the sentence is important as people just don’t like hearing the word itself. For example: When someone interrupts you with, “Have you got a minute?” and you actually do not have time for them right now, respond with “Because I am working on a high-priority project right now, let’s schedule some time after 3:00 today.” Saying ‘No’ without using the word ‘No’!
Effectively communicating with stakeholders requires a sense of purpose combined with the skills to use appropriate language to convey true intent. Saying ‘Yes’ to avoid conflict actually makes the conflict worse. Saying ‘Yes’ to your manager when you actually disagree, makes you a party to the slow degradation of the culture. Saying ‘Yes’ to a customer without clarifying the real need means putting the relationships with that client, as well as other clients and associates, at risk.
Gandhi once said, “A ‘No’ uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a ‘Yes’ merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble.” A leader’s word is their bond and their brand. If their ‘Yes’ has no meaning because they can’t say ‘No’, then their brand loses its Value.
How much does your ‘Yes’ mean?
I agree that the best answer sometimes is NO, but what do you do when the answer NO is unacceptable? You know by saying yes you will be wasting time, money, and valuable resources that could be used towards other projects. Once you say yes to this type of request you are then expected to say yes to future requests that will create the same dilemma. I'm now a supervisor for the state.
Quinten, great question and point made about the situational nature of being asked to do things that are potentially not as well thought out by the person making the request. Your role is to ask thoughtful questions that highlight the challenges of the request without using the word "No". For instance, you should always ask a clarifying question for every request, even if you think you fully understand it. Something like "I have a concern this will draw key resources away from this other priority project so can you help me understand how we will manage the resource shortage?" This is not saying you disagree, it says you have a concern about how you will have enough resource to figure it out to the standard that is expected. If the answer is a blow-off answer that sounds like, "Just figure it out.", then at least you know you are working for an ineffective manager and you can make your next career decision from there. A respectful and effective manager will listen to your concern and help you thought-partner through some alternatives that presumably achieve both goals.
Thanks again for your comment and question!
Rick so true and as always a great article to make us reflect. Over the years one of my hardest training obstacles was getting my sales guys not to tend too hard to please and start respond quicker than the prospect can finish the question .with a .. yes we can do that. What they tend to over look is we haven't closed the business yet and if we had any choices it would not be one we would recommend or priority. It is hard to say no when you really have to redirect their thinking to understand why no could mean a yes if they change their thoughts.
Irish, so true, especially in sales! I believe it is the difference between selling the prospect and helping the prospect buy which, by definition puts the salesperson in a different mindset and in a better position to say "yes" and "no" more appropriately. I think the other element in the blog that applies to salespeople is learning how to say "no" without saying the word itself. Thanks for your insight and trust all is well! Rick