One of the biggest challenges affecting freelancers, entrepreneurs and creative business owners is learning how to say “no” when it matters. Yet, this one little word is one of the most powerful words you can use more to move your professional and personal life forward.
The reason why people find it difficult or fear saying no is because our default human response to most things in life is “yes.” We fear saying “no” will lock us out of opportunities, worry that saying “no” will make someone we reject angry and we generally want to be more agreeable. Sometimes we simply are afraid that we will come across as rude when we say no.
But, if your life is anything like mine it is full to the brim with things to do: Family to love, business to run, seminars to attend, articles to write, books to promote, entrepreneurs to mentor, dogs to walk, cats to feed…way too much to do and not nearly enough time to do those things that matter.
It doesn’t matter if you are a kind soul at heart who doesn’t like to turn people away or not, today’s busy schedules demand that you get better at saying “no” if you want to reach greater heights in life. Knowing when to say “yes” and when to say “no” can make or break your career and business.
The movers and shakers in the world understand this fact. They know which opportunities to pursue and which ones to discard. They know what their priorities are and have mastered the art of saying “no” to the things that are not a priority.
Take Steve Jobs for example. In an exclusive interview with award-winning journalist Betsy Morris about the secrets to Apple Inc.'s success and the prospects of the company succeeding without him, Jobs said:
“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done.”
Jobs said no to many things among them good ideas and we can all see where that got him. He achieved phenomenal success in a short life span of 56 years, building an enterprise from scratch into an iconic $30 billion company
Know your priorities and stay focused
Do you know what you have in common with Jobs and other high performers who demonstrate razor-sharp focus on executing the things that really matter, such as Bill Gates and President Obama? You have exactly 24 hours in a day to do those things that are important. So does Bill Gates and president Obama.
If you know the things that are most important to you and focus on them, there is no reason why you too cannot accomplish big things. Understand there are big things in life and there are little things. Do your best and tell them apart. Knowing and staying focused on high-priorities tasks ensures you manage each minute of your 24 hours in a day more effectively to reach your goals.
Look at what you are doing and how you spend your time and then ask yourself some basic questions:
"Why am I doing this task?"
"How does this activity help me achieve my goals and mission?"
"To what extent does this activity I'm doing help me achieve my goals?"
Weigh the value of your answers carefully against your core goals and mission and just say “no” to everything that doesn’t support your values or help you achieve your goals.
For example, say no when:
- A client insists on a deadline that you cannot meet
- A client asks you to do something illegal or unethical
- A client offers more work than you can realistically handle
- A client asks you to do additional work that you didn’t agree to do
- A client who has a bad reputation asks you to work on a project with them
- A friend or relative asks favors that eat too much into your work and family time
What if you don't learn to say “no”? What then?
If you don’t learn to say “no” when it matters:
- Other peoples’ priorities will precede your own
- You’ll be overloaded with requests and calls for favors
- You’ll be enmeshed in side activities that you don’t really enjoy
- You’ll be bogged down by assignments that don’t pay enough
- You’ll be irritable, frustrated and stressed
- You’ll have no time for rest and recovery
- You’ll be pressured and the quality of your work will slip
- You'll lose focus and miss deadlines and appointments
- You won't be able to recognize and say “yes” to the really important stuff in life
- People you barely know will crowd out your time with family and close friends.
Keep these stumbling blocks to your success at bay by just saying—NO!
Tips to Say No
No matter who you are talking to and what the situation is, you have the right to say no. You only lose that right when you relinquish it. Instead of shying away from saying no, realize it’s okay to say no.
Keep your ‘no’ simple
Avoid going into lengthy explanations why you have to decline. Over-explaining weakens your position. Simply say no and offer a brief reason why you have declined. For example, you could say:
“I am sorry but I can't take up your offer. I am held up in another project right now.”
Provide an alternative option
If you feel bad about saying no to someone, provide an alternative option or lead to soften the blow of the rejection.
For example, recommend a few leads you know who can do an equally good job for a client if you cannot take up the client’s job offer.
Say no outright and walk away
While most people are reasonable and will respect your position, others are not. Some people will insist or pressure you to give in to their wishes.
Say a firm NO and walk away or change the subject if a person pressures you. This way you avert conflict with people who exhibit this rude behavior.
Saying “yes” to things that are not important is not necessarily bad. It helps other people sometimes, but rarely helps you. So, why not switch your default response from “yes” to “no” today for those you love and for yourself?
Saying "no" whenever there is not enough compelling reason to say “yes” can be one of the most liberating habits you develop to move your personal and professional life forward.