Getting Comfortable With “NO”

For business networking success, you need to build deep relationships; learn how to help people; and support your professional connections in some way. However sometimes, just sometimes, you need to say “no” to requests that are made of you.

It’s important to recognize when someone’s opportunity is your distraction. That begins by knowing your own personal or professional mission. Typically, these are situations where their project is not on mission for, nor compatible with, your business or your life. In these situations, you need to learn how to say no. Remember, the word “no” can be a one-word sentence. It’s just not a sentence that I like to use very often; and I think there are a fair number of people that feel the same way.

Don’t get me wrong, I am totally good with saying “no” to people when it is necessary. The secret is how to get comfortable saying “no” and doing it without sounding like you don’t care.

Six Ways to Say “No”

I personally have found that these suggestions are very effective when they are used with respect and sincerity.

I don’t do that.
Sometimes the request and the response I give are very simple.  For example, when someone tries to get me to have a piece of cake or pie – I simply say “thanks, but I don’t eat processed sugar.” When they say something like, “oh, just a bite,” I am comfortable telling them they should feel free to have my bite because I don’t eat sugar.

If I said yes, I’d let you down.
An effective way to tell someone “no” is to tell them that you believe you would let them down if you did what they are asking. It might be because you don’t have the bandwidth, the knowledge, or the expertise to do fulfill their request. In any case, you’re not the person to help make this idea a success and you don’t want to disappoint them.

Refer them to someone more qualified.
When I say “no” to someone, I usually try to refer them to someone else who is more suited or qualified to help them. I like to refer them to someone whose mission is more aligned with the project they want help with.

Propose something else.
When you are unable to do something that you’re being asked to do, offer something else instead. For example, I’m often asked to send some type of communication to my entire mailing list. My answer is always “no.” However, with people I know and trust, I propose something else to maintain the relationship. I offer to post it on my social media instead and that generally works just as well. 

Don’t Seinfeld it.
In the old TV series, Seinfeld, the characters often came up with some crazy, complicated excuse or subterfuge that ended up getting them in more trouble than if they were candid from the start. Always be polite while being honest and direct.

When you say it, mean it.
Be a broken record; be firm. Sometimes, people simply don’t want to take “no” for an answer. I try to be polite, smile, and continue to repeat what I said before.

Saying “No” Due to Someone’s Poor Planning

I once had someone send me a document that they needed to have completed IMMEDIATELY for an important deadline. Mind you, they could have sent the document to me several months earlier. Due to their poor planning, they waited until the last minute to send it to me. At the time, I was out of the country on business with back-to-back trips scheduled over the next few weeks and they were aware that I was in the midst of my travels.

Regardless, they emailed me, my assistant, and my wife THREE times in two days! In between my meetings, I sent them a message and said, “I’m sorry you have a problem, but your project is not my priority due to your poor planning. You had months to send this to me and you sent it at the last moment (when I’m swamped) and you want it right now. NO. I am not able to do it right now.”

I had to be firm with my reply declining their request. I also put the responsibility back in their court, making it very clear why I said NO. Their poor planning did not need to become my priority.

One important reminder: don’t become addicted to “no.” I look for opportunities to help people and to say yes. It’s only when I truly cannot help or when I know I am not a good fit for their request that I say “no” to people.

You have to be clear in your mind whether something is actually an opportunity or a distraction. And then get comfortable saying “no” when it is the best answer for you.

3 thoughts on “Getting Comfortable With “NO”

  1. Hmmm. I had to be firm a week ago – not work-related – when a friend left her phone behind in our car, after a group of us traveling together had just talked for twenty minutes about that very subject. (This person leaves stuff behind all the time, and I’ve often made a special trip to return her things.) She asked me to deliver it to her and I said no, that I would return it the next Sunday when we came to pick her up. Besides the fact that It’s a 20-mile round trip, I’m running a business during the week and can’t drop everything to accommodate her. I pointed out that when she leaves her stuff behind, she makes me responsible for it. I have plenty of my own stuff to be responsible for; I don’t need other people dumping their stuff on me. And I don’t go back on what I say I’ll do. If I did, she wouldn’t have taken my frustration seriously, and it would keep on happening. Maybe it will, anyway, but I’m not about to become her enabler in irresponsibility. I had to get firm with her, which translated as not pleased with her. Because she kept pushing it, my final “no” didn’t register on the “pleasant” scale. Of course, now she’s not pleased with me, either. Sometimes you just can’t achieve a mutually agreeable solution.

  2. Very well-written and easy-to-understand article. My favourite point is “Referring them to someone more qualified” as it will not only build your credibility but also be able to better help them with what they are after. While it may seem like losing a potential client/customer to an acquaintance or even a business competitor, I think this is basic human decency and an excellent opportunity to use the good relationships built over time whilst also connecting new and trustworthy relationships with the person we are helping.

  3. Excellent comment. I am a sole proprietor of my kitchen and bath design company. I had an occation when I could not help a client due to budget constraints. I referred these folks to a colleague who I knew would be be more able to help them. They got their kitchen renovation and I received referrals from them. Those refferals were friends and aquaintances who I was able to move ahead with.

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