How To Say No.

It's one of the hardest things to do in business.

If you're an executive, you never say no to your boss and you're afraid to say no to your peers. Your team, it's easy — except if you're a pushover.

If you run a business, you never say no to your clients and you're afraid to say no to your vendors/distributors. Your team — again, pushover.

But using the word 'No' effectively puts you in the driver's seat — it allows you to make faster decisions on what you have planned to do. If you let someone else pop in with a request, change, or demand and it throws off your plans — it's frustrating.

So here are some proven techniques to say 'No':

  • Say 'Not Now'. You're not saying 'No', you are acknowledging their idea/direction, and you probably see the reason behind the request. But you just can't do it NOW. "Let's look at it in a few weeks, months, and hopefully years." Because most requests have a tinge of self-esteem built into them — you have to keep it up while letting them down easy. "Susan, I have to say, this is an incredible idea. I am blown away you spent a lot of time on it and I want us to take it forward. But, not now. We are in the middle of launching our new nuclear-powered client service system and we just don't have the focus or manpower to do it at this time. Do you see where I'm coming from?"

  • Say 'Yes', but with stipulations and the ability to change it radically. Some ideas have merit and some have a little spark of genius wrapped in a ball of unimportant busywork. First, give them acknowledgement for a great idea and say 'Yes', but then dissect their suggestion/demand and pick out the parts which really have merit. "Tom, I see where you're going with this and I'm really interested in accelerating this one small section ASAP into our project line. Are you up to running it? By the way nice work. We can then review the rest and see what is feasible moving forward."

  • Say 'Yes', but change their request around so it better suits you and the direction you're traveling in. Often, bosses, peers, clients, and even your team try to throw ideas or '180° turnarounds' to slow you down, jumble up the works, or stop progress entirely. Sometimes they do it unwittingly and sometimes with malice. In any event, you need to acknowledge their tennis serve and return it back with a lot of spin on it. "Igor, your idea of moving the development team to Fiji is well-thought out — I am intrigued by your idea of moving the team to get better work out of them. Your strategy of mixing up the work environment is a good one — let's redecorate their offices."

  • Say 'No'. There are times when you just have to say 'No' and take the consequences. But let them down gently and quickly — again, a lot of their self-esteem and work is bundled up into the idea — and it will take a major hit. Take their emotions into account but follow your 'No' with FACTS. Refer to why you can't do it and what elements are out of your control, etc. "Fritz, I'm going to have to pass at this time on your idea. It's not that it's bad, I do see some hard work here, but for this company at this time, I will have to say 'No'. Do you understand where I'm coming from?"

When have you had to say 'No'? What happened?