As a business owner, or even just a busy executive or changemaker, the best skill you can master is prioritization. Since you can’t clone yourself and you do need to sleep (and perhaps see your spouse every once in a while), the art of saying no is a powerful tool in your arsenal.
Work and life are all about choices. You can say yes to more of the right things–the right projects, clients, people–ONLY IF you say no to others.
As an organization, your brand strategy can be a great compass to keep you on the right path and not get distracted by inefficient investments, bad advertising opportunities, new social media platforms, or other shiny objects.
Further, your organization’s (or personal) mission, vision and values can keep you focused and moving forward.
Learning to say no is just as important as saying yes. But be sure you’re saying NO in a positive way. (TWEET THIS!)
I’ve seen many entrepreneurs in recent years swing so far the other way down the “learn to say no” track, that they make it impossible (and frankly, unpleasant) to do business with them.
You can say no with respect. Offer them a path forward if possible. “Wow, that sounds like an amazing project and opportunity. Unfortunately, I’m unable to help with it right now. Here are some other folks who might be able to work and I’m happy to make an introduction.”
You can say no with empathy: Some rules can be broken because…life. It’s not “making exceptions” – it’s being understanding. “My usual policy is that meetings cancelled with less than 24 hours notice require payment in full. But that is terrible about your daughter being ill. I hope she’s doing okay. You’ve definitely got a lot on your plate. Why don’t we go ahead and reschedule this for free this time- but I won’t be able to squeeze this in for another month. Does that work for you?”
You can say no with kindness and collaboration, rather than assuming ill intent or that someone is trying to take advantage of you. Not everyone is your mortal enemy so take it down a notch. Instead of:
(Huffing) “Well, it’s my policy and you did sign the contract so you knew this was an issue!”
Don’t confuse being unreasonable and aggressive with being professional.
How about: “What can we do together to remedy the situation while still staying true to the contract terms in Section 1B?” (and then go make sure that section of the contract is bolded and requires initials in the future!)
And if you decide to say no with this phrase “Nothing personal.” there are kind tones and aggressive tones. Remember, only 7% of your communication comes from the words you say. Non-verbal communication is everything, and that includes your tone of voice. As my mother used to scold, “It’s not what you said, it’s how you said it.” Usually before sending me to my room.
It’s super important to have boundaries, clarity, and conviction. You definitely don’t want to say yes if something is not the right fit, you don’t have time to do your best work, or you run yourself ragged. That’s not fair to the other person who needs you to be all-in. But…show some grace when you say no and you’ll not only still be able to prioritize or stick to your values, but you will also create a positive personal brand for yourself.