Telling someone 'No' is one of the hardest actions (even for an accomplished leader). Here are some strategies to help you make it easier:
1. Is it right for the company?
This was always my first hurdle with any major (or minor) decision with my colleagues or clients. Many suggestions or requests usually have a focus — do they ultimately benefit your company or just the person requesting the decision? You'll find if you look through that lens, the balance is skewed more towards personal advancement and less towards the company as a whole. One way to send them away is to have them skew the balance much more in favor to the company.
2. Is it right at this time?
You're not saying 'Never', you're just saying 'Not now'. As a leader, things come at you fast and furious.Many people, many decisions — some requests are good, some are not so good. Your people are energized and built to deliver instantaneous decisions to problems they see in their universe. Their solutions might take on additional cost, resources, and people. Sometimes you just have to say 'Not now'. By putting it off for future consideration, it allows the problem to sometimes fix itself or go away and allows you to teach an important lesson to your colleague — not everything needs fixing immediately.
3. Acknowledge their request.
Sometimes, people just want acknoledgement. They want to feel listened to and special. So give them the stage. You can ask questions and have them walk you through their thinking — understand what is involved, and the who, where, when, and how. As they broaden your understanding of the strategy, it makes it easier for you to either accept it (because it's a good idea) or pick it apart (because it's a bad one).
4. Don't take on too much responsibility.
You do not want another monkey on your back (check out this great HBR article I recommend to all of my clients). Many times, when colleagues are asking you to say 'Yes', it usually entails some added responsibility on your end. Some deliverable, some oversight, some action which adds to your workload. When this happens, try to turn it around and never let the monkey get on your back in the first place. Most of the time, when you don't accept any responsibility for the decision, the idea goes away of it's own accord.
Or sometimes you just have to come out and say NO.
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