Getting to NO: One Word That Can Change How You Do Business


NO! Just say it out loud… No! One of the most powerful words in the English language is also one of the most underused. It is a word that should be heard in businesses more often. It should echo off the walls of board rooms of Fortune 500 corporations just the same as it does from local small businesses.

Saying “no” is not a negative thing — when done for the right reasons. We often resist using the word out of fear of seeming unsupportive, hurting the asker's feelings, or (possibly) losing out on something we think might be potentially beneficial in the future. For most of us, it is just easier to say “yes.”

…But don’t!

The Power of ‘No’

In reality, many of us avoid saying no for emotional reasons. We think it will make us look bad or that the word will make the situation awkward and, ultimately, more difficult. If you think this… you’re probably right. No is harder to say, and it frequently does make situations more difficult (or awkward at least). If we all said no a bit more often, these negative feelings would disappear.

However, the ability to recognize and act in situations that call for a “no” without fearing the consequences is a trait that great business owners must have. In a speech at Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference way back in 1997, Steve Jobs said,

“Focusing is about saying no…. You’ve got to say no, no, no and when you say no you piss off people and they go talk to the San Jose Mercury and they write a shitty article about you. And it’s really a pisser…”

You may make some people angry; you may feel upset about having to say it; you may get some negative feedback. But, the truth is, a single NO can be much much more powerful than any YES!

Why say no though? We’ll explain.

Save Time

Saying no helps us to establish and maintain boundaries in all aspects of our lives. Constant strings of yes's — accepting more projects, more assignments, more clients, more customers — can leave us overstretched and in danger of underperforming. Juddah Kurtz, an executive coach and consultant, explains in his blog,

“Saying ‘NO’ is a source of power and an access to effectiveness. When we choose to close the door on something, we are opening up space for that which is a better fit for what we are creating and committed to.”

Saying ‘no’ to others sometimes ensures that you are not only saving time for yourself, but you are saving their time as well. An overextended, overworked version of us is not the best reflection of who we are or the most productive, beneficial version of ourselves we can be. Therefore, the work we have accepted — whether out of courtesy, fear, or friendship — will ultimate be sub-par work and waste both our time and theirs.

This is true for new products and ideas as well. An upfront “no” to an idea that isn't likely to be feasible can save countless hours of work and investment dollars, and keep those resources available for a better idea down the line. Having trouble deciding if a new project is worth it? Check out our tips for how to know whether to “Ramp or Yank” the project.

Find Focus

Every business has a mission, a goal or a direction. We all can articulate our plan and, for the most parts, the major steps that must be taken to achieve those goals. We understand our business plans—we likely were the ones that created them—yet we still say yes to projects or undertaking that do not align to this plan.

As Steve Jobs noted, our no’s help us find focus. They guide us and assist us in remaining on track. Josh Patrick explains in an article in The New York Times that when you say yes constantly,

“You stray outside the specialty you are really good at, and two things are likely to happen… You will end up spending more time and effort trying to produce your product or service [and] you will make less money because you will be trying to do something you are not very good at.”

Jobs created his greatest innovations by saying “no” to what existed in the 90s and early 2000s. When the music industry was focused on declining record sales and shutting music downloaders out, Jobs said no and changed the music industry paradigm forever with the launch of iTunes.

Grow With No

Saying no AND providing a clear, definite explanation behind why you said it can help grow your business. Trying to please and serve everyone can leave us over-committed and our businesses struggling. Knowing when to say no preserves your valuable resources for the things that really matter. Saying no can appear to be counterproductive, and like any skill, it is difficult to master. However, learning to say no can leave you a skilled prioritizer, a more focused worker, and a much happier and healthier person.

When has saying no been an asset to your work? Share by tweeting @EidsonPartners.

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