I recently reached out to a friend of a friend. I wanted to pick his brain on some business ideas that I thought were very related to what he does. I was hoping for a new connection, some thoughtful conversation, and a little free advice.
When I finally reached out, he very politely said “no.” Of course, he said more than just “no,” but the bottom line was that he was strapped for time working on a new online course that was about to launch and that his wife was about to have a baby. He said he would love to help in the future—like six months down the road—but that right now, he just had to say “no” to some things.
At first, I was a little put off, even shocked. I hadn’t expected him to say no. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized there was a lot I could learn from this experience. His “no” wasn’t personal at all, and I do believe he meant it when he said he’d have that conversation in six months. But he had to choose. He had to be picky with his time, and I respect that. That’s something I try to be hyper-aware of in my life, as we all know that time is our most precious commodity.
So, I ask you: Are you saying “no” often enough?
Think about these four kinds of people in your life:.
1. Your Customers
Sometimes we over-serve. Shoot, I probably over-serve my clients every day, and they probably don’t even realize it (shame on me). But this can be a big problem and one that we all need to work on. It’s okay to get paid for what you do and to acknowledge when something is outside the scope of your contract or your capabilities. Don’t feel like every request has to be met or you’ll lose their business. Don’t leave that client hanging; suggest alternatives. Quality partners will appreciate and respect you more when you are honest about boundaries.
2. Your Employees
Your corporate culture should be one where saying “no” is a legitimate option. If you’re not the right person for the work, or if the deadline isn’t realistic for you, you shouldn’t be scared to say, “Sorry, I can’t make that happen, but I can make this happen. Will that work for you?” Again, suggesting alternatives makes you helpful, not unhelpful.
While it doesn’t involve the word “no,” candor also produces more accurate revenue forecasting. I’ve been in a position in my past life where I was encouraged to inflate projections to make management happy. My boss seemed to care less about reality and more about hope. This isn’t helpful for anyone in the long-run. It leads to a lot of missed goals, lack of accountability, and disrespect for the process.
3. Your Friends and Family
Sometimes work does have to take priority. Don’t be afraid to make it clear to those in your personal life that you might need to be a little distant for a given amount of time. If you are on a tight deadline or working on a major project, it’s better to be upfront with those that are closest to you. Tell them that you’ll have to turn down a lot of invitations this month while you are focusing on X, but that you’ll make it up to them when the project is done.
The key here is telling them in advance, whenever possible. Doing so helps prevent hurt feelings and also helps you avoid the guilt of saying “no.”
Of course, you want your sales prospects to say “yes!” But what about you? What if your gut feeling is that your available solutions really can’t help this person or company? Or what if their values don’t align with yours or they’re just not the kind of people with whom you want to do business? Yes, here too it’s smart to say “no.” Decline business opportunities or new clients if you don’t think it will be a win for everyone involved.
“No” can lead to better business and a better life. Let’s practice. Say after me, No! If you explain why and suggest alternatives, you’ll be seen as honest and professional.