…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?

Lead Well!