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September 20, 2021

How saying NO to clients and employees can increase your chance of success


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While saying yes to everything can open up a world to numerous possibilities, it isn’t always good for our health. Especially in the workplace, saying no should not be a taboo topic that no one dares to even speak of. Instead, being able to say no the right way can actually lead to a better career, more success, and less stress. And who wouldn’t want that?

It is understandable that most of us rarely dare to say no to our bosses, clients, other coworkers, or even employees. It is in human nature to try and please everyone so that our surroundings are as pleasant and positive as possible. We may not want to appear lazy, ungrateful, or uninterested, so we try to say yes to almost everything - even if it’s not good for us. But our physical and mental health matter just as much as keeping our environment (even workplace) positive and stress-free. 

Even Warren Buffet, one of the most well-known investors of our time, said: 

“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything.”

If we take a page out of Warren Buffet’s book, we should also be able to learn how and when to say no. Leo Babauta, founder of Zen Habits and expert in habits building and goals achieving, wrote about 10 ways that you can learn “the gentle art of saying no”. In short, they are:

                      • Value Your Time - knowing how precious your time is will help you be more honest with people when you have to turn them down
                      • Know Your Priorities - when you have the rare opportunity of having some spare time, do you really want to spend it working on more projects? Or would you rather spend quality time with family and friends?
                      • Practice Saying No - practicing saying no will definitely make things easier, and in some cases repeating the word to persistent people will help in building your confidence to turn people down.
                      • Don’t Apologize -  even though it may feel common and more polite, saying no while apologizing does make it sound weaker. Being unapologetic about how you manage your time will help you understand that you shouldn’t feel bad for using your time wisely.
                      • Stop Being Nice - being polite is always important, but not to the point where saying yes will hinder your work, time, or personal life.
                      • Say No to Your Boss - your boss may be above you, but they should not be giving you too much work that you can’t handle. Say no by explaining that your productivity and existing work is at risk.
                      • Pre-Empting - instead of preparing yourself to say no after you suspect that more requests are going to be made, try saying that your plate is full beforehand. This way, you won’t have to say no to every request, but you’ll say to a bunch of them only once. 
                      • Get Back to You - sometimes it’s better to spend a little time thinking about a proposition, and then get back to them later by politely turning them down. It never hurts to check your priorities first.
                      • Maybe Later - you can let others know that you don’t have the time for that project right now and that you can check back in with them within a given time frame. You don’t have to turn down every opportunity, you can postpone some.
                      •  It’s Not You, It’s Me - if a project is not right for you, let them know. Make sure they understand that you aren’t turning them down because of the project, but because you don’t feel that it is one for you to take on.

                      Now that we know some of the ways on how to use the “gentle art of saying no”, let’s see how we can say “No” to clients and employees in order to increase success.

                      How to say “No” to increase the chances of success

                      1. Learn to be confident

                      Saying ‘NO’, as we’ve discussed, has a certain art to it. So the way you say it matters a lot. You can sound professional but still assertive when you reply to others with a constructive ‘no’. Being confident here helps quite a lot, as you will be able to turn down requests by being kind, clear, and respectful. It shows that you value your time and ongoing projects, but you value the people who are requesting something from you as well. Maintaining a positive approach greatly reduces the possibility of upsetting someone, so you can be able to answer people more honest about your priorities. 

                      2. Practice a few ‘ready’ phrases

                      Sometimes having a few phrases can come in handy when saying ‘no’. It also helps with building confidence. These phrases not only polish your responses but also give you comfort in knowing that you have legitimate reasons to fall back on if you don’t know how to answer right away. Some of these phrases can include words like ‘prioritize’, ‘support’, ‘responsibility’, and even ‘committed’. Avoiding the usual negative words like ‘unfortunately’ or ‘I’m afraid’ will help you sound more positive and keep others thinking about the reasons why you have to say ‘no’, instead of the actual act of saying ‘no’.

                      3. Have a solution-driven mindset

                      Sometimes the best way to say ‘no’ is to just offer a little bit of support. If you have to say ‘no’ to a project, it doesn’t mean that you don’t care about it at all. You can make sure to give any other ideas or solutions you have, without you being the one taking over the project or request. It can happen that one way you contribute is just by sharing some quick ideas or other alternatives. Saying phrases like ‘How can I support?’ or ‘Have you considered this alternative?’ can be very helpful, and you don’t have to take on more than you can. 

                      4. Make a referral

                      Have you ever heard of a win-win situation for both parties even when you turn them down? Well, that’s exactly what you can do. If you aren’t able to take on a new project, someone else might be able to. Try suggesting other colleagues or contacts that you have, because they might even be a better fit than you. They might have better knowledge and expertise, and in the end, everyone is happy. You can confidently turn down a project, and the person who requested it from you can still get it done (and sometimes more efficiently). A simple phrase like “I have a lot on my plate right now, but may I suggest X-person?” can go a long way.

                      5. Try to be empathetic and compassionate

                      Your success matters just as much as everyone else’s. But you can’t hinder your productivity by not sticking to your priorities. So how can you say ‘no’ to people without the risk of sounding ungrateful or affecting relationships? In some cases, just a simple phrase like ‘I understand that me not being able to take this on will put the project back in your hands’ can help others understand that you aren’t against them. It shows empathy and compassion for your colleagues or clients. You’re showing them how you realize that by saying ‘no’, their work will be affected as well. Sometimes just a simple acknowledgment will make you seem professional, grateful, and respectful.

                      6. Use “we,” “our,” and “us” rather than “I”

                      When saying ‘no’, you always have to give some sort of reason so that the other understand your priorities and that you value your time. But that doesn’t mean that you won’t be supporting as a team player. Using ‘we’ instead of ‘I’ can come in handy when dealing with customers and clients because it shows unity and a sense of teamwork. It’s an effective approach when you have to turn down clients on behalf of your team or company. This way, you’re making it clear that your whole team is going in the same direction and that you are a confident leader. One phrase that usually works is “Our team is currently fully booked and are working on projects X and Z’.

                      Being able to say ‘no’ doesn’t come naturally to many, but it is something that everyone can learn to do. With more practice, it can feel less stressful to say and with time you will become more confident. Focusing on projects and priorities that are important to you should always come first, and you are not the only one in this scenario. So there really is no need to feel guilty about having to say ‘no’ to a few people. It will greatly improve your mental and physical health, and you will increase your own and your team’s success by not overworking. 

                      Don’t forget that saying ‘no’ does not equal you being mean. Rather, it’s about prioritizing your time, sanity, and health. And with all of the above-mentioned tips, saying ‘no’ won’t feel like you’re letting everyone down, but that you are taking care of yourself and your team.

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