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We need to say No more often, in order to be able to say Yes when it matters. Here’s why I love people who are able to say No clearly and respectfully.
Picture this: you meet someone at a conference, exchange visiting cards and he says something like, “We should do something together”. It’s polite, it’s friendly, and before you know it, you’ve exchanged cards and pleasantries with ten people in the room.
In the next week, you reach out to a few of these folks who seem relevant; enquiries that perhaps are a first step to having a more detailed conversation and finding out if there is a good fit for the two of you to engage in some way.
But…all of a sudden, these nice people whom you connected so well with, just don’t respond!
If you’ve been this person (and many of us have), you are probably staying quiet because you don’t see this engagement really happening. But…it just seems harsh to tell the other person right away. So, you tell them you’ll get back to them. That you need to check internally if its ‘feasible’. Or you simply don’t answer the email.
They mail you again. And again. Until they get the message that its not going anywhere and stop contacting you.
I have been that person sending out mails after a conference, as well as the person on the other side receiving them and unable to send out a clear response. Most of us have, and in a bunch of situations – whether it is people we meet at events, someone referred to us by a friend, or just an email out of the blue.
In the Indian context, saying no doesn’t come easily to us, because we have been conditioned from childhood, that disagreeing with someone is the same as showing disrespect. So, we dilly-dally and wait for the other person to quit asking. The situation is worse for women, because enough research has shown that women are judged more harshly than men, when they do say ‘No’.
Yet, making people wait indefinitely is not a good thing to do. And not just for the sake of the person waiting for your response. By making someone do the hard work of contacting you repeatedly or even worse, letting them believe you are seriously considering their offer, you are of course wasting their time. But you are also damaging some amount of the goodwill you may have created before.
Even from a very mercenary perspective, this person you are leaving dangling without a clear response, could be a potential client or customer in another role, or a valuable contact who could connect you to investors or customers you need one day. So besides being a sheer waste of everyone’s time, by subtly communicating to the other person that you don’t care enough to be honest with them, you have one less person in the industry rooting for you.
This is also why I love all the people who’ve said no to me in my career as a sales and marketing professional and subsequently as an entrepreneur.
No, we won’t be able to place any more orders for that fragrance this quarter.
Thank you! I can make more realistic estimates of whether I will achieve my targets this quarter, or where I can make up the shortfall from.
No, I don’t see our company coming on board for this project – since this is not among the XYZ focus areas we have for this financial year.
Thank you! This is valuable information about the market that I can factor into future proposals.
No, we won’t be able to deliver your order within 3 days – because it takes us 4 days to deliver a high quality design that you will first approve, and then we go to print.
Thank you! I know that you take deadlines seriously and won’t overpromise and under-deliver; and if we really cannot wait, perhaps we should cross-check with other suppliers, or reassess our own deadlines.
In all these (real) cases in my career, people who said ‘No’ have helped me meet targets, understand customer needs and spend my time more wisely.
Not saying ‘No’ leads to an enormous amount of unnecessary emails, phone calls, meetings and time wastage for everyone concerned.
We need to train ourselves consciously, to be people who say ‘Yes’ after judicious thinking, and ‘No’ as well when it is clearly needed – and in ways that work for us.
I would love to hear from you whether saying No comes easily to you, and how you make that choice.
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First published here.
Top image via Pixabay
Founder, Editor of Women's Web, Aparna believes in the power of ideas and conversations
I would think in some professional settings, saying “no” comes a tad bit more easily than in non-work related settings, especially if you are not the boss (the final decision maker) yourself. This is because there is an unstated understanding that the reason for saying ‘no’ may be something out of one’s control!! In non-work settings, saying “No” is often delayed or avoided, as much as possible, for the reasons you’ve mentioned,-that is- saying “no” is often seen as just being unfriendly or disrespectful. This is especially so, when it comes to interacting with people who convey a sense of entitlement with regards to what they are asking of you. Lots of bullies and self centred people who have power or authority over someone use this technique to take what they want, even when they are aware, it makes the giver uncomfortable. This applies in far too many awkward social situations that we face in our daily lives to even begin elaborating! But, I do think its straightforward and decent to say “no” especially to people/ meetings, if one clearly saw no future potential in a connection with them. However, personally whenever I have said “no”, it’s been taken as rejection, disrespect and even a sign of negativity !!!! So…, although you and I seem ready to say “no”, clearly some people just aren’t going to be ready to hear it !! This includes, those guys that think -No means Yes!!
Good to hear from you, Sonia. I agree it is easier to say no in some situations, especially if you can imply that you are saying no because of someone else! It’s harder when one has to say no for reasons within one’s own control.
“However, personally whenever I have said “no”, it’s been taken as rejection, disrespect and even a sign of negativity ” – I agree! Not everyone is ready to hear that No. But then, even saying a Yes to such people is likely to have its own challenges!
Hi Aparna! Coincidentally, I just watched Robin Sharma talk about the power of saying a ´No´ respectfully. And then, I read your brilliant article on the same. As someone who has always been hesitant to say a ´No´straight upfront lest it may hurt someone or appear to rude to say so blatantly, I am learning now that ´No´ can be said respectfully. Yet to implement it but I quite like the thought. It´s like have your cake and eating it too..having the best of both the world. I am so going to make the ´Say No respectfully and firmly´ as one of my mantras for life. I really like the idea and think it makes life easier for all, especially for ourselves.
Thank you, Tina. I agree, it makes life easier for everybody. There are people who find any kind of a No rude, but then, who has the bandwidth to deal with such immature behaviour? Thankfully, these are not people one is working with on a daily basis, in which case, we can say no when needed and move on.
I am a person who says NO unabashedly and unapologetically now (I was a muppet a few years ago). And trust me when I say this. Everybody talks of how they love assertive outspoken straightforward bla bla people. But nobody likes it when that NO is directed towards them.
I know nothing about you. But may I ask you – how would you feel when someone (say, your best friend) says NO to you when you were expecting a YES? Would you accept it or bitch about that person?
When somebody says NO to me, I do feel bad. But I do make a conscious effort to not bitch and not go on a ‘I did so much for him/her and look at how they treat me’ tirade. It’s difficult, but possible with practice.
I said multiple NOs to parents when they try to push me for marriage. I get guilt-tripping, condescension, hurtful words and drama every now and then in return.
I said NO to a friend who wanted to borrow my SLR. I got bitched about in our circle.
I said NO to a friend who wanted to dump her junk in my place when she was leaving the city (said she would take it ‘another time’). I got the silent treatment.
And I don’t even want to start on the cost of NOs in relationships.
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