The power of saying 'no'

Business Buzz for Birmingham & Warwickshire

If in business you’ve ever felt uncomfortable, unsure or uneasy about saying ‘no’, then read on.

In this blog, I’m going to discuss some of the reasons it is perfectly reasonable to say ‘no’. Giving yourself permission to do this is actually a healthy business practice, so let’s have a look at some of the reasons why we might find it difficult to do and how we can find ways to manage it.   

I shall use the word ‘no’ a lot, but actually what I am doing is creating real opportunities to say ‘yes’. The word ‘no’ can be a positive force for good in your business, so that where & when you do say ‘yes’, it is full steam ahead.

Oh, No! FOMO!

By its very nature, saying ‘no’ might be perceived as negative. For those of us who pride ourselves on being helpful and supportive, saying ‘no’ can make us feel guilty at letting someone down, or embarrassed and incapable for feeling like we cannot take on another task, project or client.

But why is saying ‘no’ seen as a negative? As social creatures, with an instinctive need for connections and relationships, we are conditioned to feel responsible for the feelings of those around us. Saying ‘no’ creates an uncertainty as to another person’s reaction. ‘Will they be angry or upset?’ or ‘will they think I’m rude or selfish?’ Maybe at the heart of it is FOMO, feeling like opportunities will be missed. Saying ‘yes’, helps us avoid our immediate discomfort that might come from saying ‘no’ and allows us to keep a conversation alive for fear of missing out, but what is the impact longer term to ourselves and our businesses?

The art of saying no

With our people-pleasing tendencies deep-rooted, we are a nation of ‘yes’ people. So how can we shift our perspective?

First and foremost, saying ‘no’ isn’t personal and it can benefit your business. For example, saying ‘no’ can have a positive impact on your sales pipeline. If a customer isn’t genuinely interested or engaged, then saying ‘no’ allows you to understand where you stand and how you can begin to spread your net elsewhere, allowing you to create a more genuine and rewarding pipeline.

A potential client saying ‘no’ doesn’t have to be the end of the conversation. It is just not happening right now and that is okay. Set a future expectation. Agree to pick-up the discussion in six months or so, when your circumstances and theirs’ may have changed.

If a potential client kicks the can down the road, they are most likely stalling, which in turn requires additional work on your part to find out their true intentions. This means extra emails or calls, or conversations that are heading nowhere. Saying ‘no’ clears the air and allows everyone to move on. In turn, you can find a client who is more genuinely interested and for whom the fit of your business, product or service is right. Thus, saving everyone time and effort.

With a client who says ‘no’, you don’t need to spend any more time discussing options they know they will not pursue, hence you don’t spend time working on trying to fit a stalling customer into your business model, when it’s just not going to happen. If they are interested, but now is not the right time, it is better to wait and be there when they need or can afford you.

There are positives to saying ‘no’ and we should focus on those. Saying ‘no’ shows respect and honesty. These are key components in any trusted relationship, so exercising these allows you to strengthen connections, and show sincerity and understanding.

The cost of saying ‘yes’

When you ask someone how they are, how often do they respond with ‘busy’? While ‘good but busy’ can be a positive thing, I’m hearing more and more that people are ‘hectic’ and that ‘there are not enough hours in the day’. While this might seem like a good thing, in truth is this because of their inability to say ‘no’?

Having too many commitments that are not necessarily right for your business, coupled with trying to fit square peg customers in to round holes out of desire to try and meet everyone’s needs can become over-bearing, overwhelming and not terribly productive. It is much more rewarding to focus on your core audience.  

Take your time to say ‘yes’ when being asked to join an organisation, or when your potential customer is demanding something that sits on the periphery of what you do, or is baulking at your price-point or does not respect your knowledge and expertise. High maintenance requires more time and effort and you’ll probably never create a satisfactory outcome. 

As we all try and keep our work-life balance in equilibrium, saying ‘no’ is a useful tool. Drowning in work, and risking burnout may be exacerbated by not saying ‘no’ enough.

This is two-fold, because saying ‘no’ also allows us space to say ‘yes’ to the right things. Maybe the ‘yes’ list can include more time spent with family and friends, improved mental wellbeing, more time spent doing hobbies, and more time to focus on relevant, strategic business tasks and clients.

As the balance tips, and you find yourself considering saying ‘yes’ and ‘no’ more mindfully. Allow yourself some time to reflect and get used to saying ‘no’ from an empowered standpoint rather than a negative one. It takes time to hone this ability, but practice makes perfect. Take control in your business through the power of a simple ‘no’.

Top Tips For Saying No

If you are used to saying ‘yes’ to avoid saying ‘no’, being more confident at saying ‘no’ is not always so easy, but try it and you’ll feel a weight lifted from your shoulders. Not being all things to all people is okay in business. So, here are top tips to making the use of ‘no’ as a valuable business tool more straightforward:

  • Don't worry about offending. If someone is offended by an honest and simple ‘no’, it is a reflection on them, not on you. Often this indicates they are too focused on the sale and not the value of your relationship.
  • Be mindful that when you yourself kick the can down the road only to eventually say ‘no’, you have wasted another business owner’s time and resources, which can then impact on your reputation and credibility. You don’t want to be known as someone who wastes other people’s time.
  • It is better to say ‘no’ in person, especially when you are building a relationship, but if you cannot initially, then start practicing saying ‘no’ via email. You have the option to edit & redraft your ‘no’ until you are comfortable with it. When this becomes more natural, you will be ready to start saying ‘no’ comfortably in person too.
  • Be honest as to why your answer is ‘no’. It might be an incompatible price point for your budget, not the right time, or that the product or solution isn't right for you. Honest feedback helps the other person develop and hone their product and marketing.
  • You should not be berated or be made to feel guilty for saying ‘no’. if this happens then it should be a warning flag. If someone is upset with you for saying ‘no’ or starts to pressure you to change your mind, is this someone you really want to collaborate with? Respond to a situation like this by asking ‘what do you not understand by me saying no?’ As a business owner, the only person to whom you are answerable is yourself. You do not need to justify your decisions to anyone else. Turn it around, but you don't have to have a discussion. ‘No’ should be enough.
  • As a provider of a service, it is okay to say no to a potential client, particularly where they don't meet your ideal client avatar. They will probably not value what you do and will most likely be high maintenance. Are you familiar with the 80:20 rule? This is where 80 per cent of your time is spent looking after just 20 per cent of your customers, so it is important to make every customer count and being able to turn away a customer with a simple but effective ‘no’ can be crucial to your success.

 Saying no is easy, oh yes it is...

Saying ‘yes’ to something that isn’t a good fit for you personally or professionally will likely result in discomfort, stress, resentment and an increased workload. If you take time to consider the options, rather than feeling obliged to say ‘yes’ to every opportunity that comes your way, you can make decisions based on logic and sound judgement which steer your business in the right direction, keeping you focused on your ultimate goal. Saying ‘no’ is a skill, and practising it allows you to reclaim your headspace and your time, helping keep control of your business expenses, and in turn your wellbeing.