We all like to say ‘yes’. It feels agreeable and collaborative. It’s part of human nature and it’s important for leadership. It can open new opportunities and make people happy. Throw ‘no’ in the mix and many of us struggle, in both personal and professional scenarios. But as leaders, we inevitably find ourselves needing to reject ideas, turn down proposals, and refuse requests. Here’s why we need to get comfortable with saying no, and how we can start to embrace it:
Yes… can be the key to no
If you’re really struggling with ‘no’, your old friend ‘yes’ can give you a bit of help. If you’re in a tricky conversation and trying to create a healthy dialogue around priorities, acknowledge the request with ‘yes’ but quickly follow it with ‘and’. The ‘and’ gives you the chance to explain constraints around the request and is a good first step towards pushing things in the right direction.
Remember when you say ‘yes’ to one thing – you’re saying ‘no’ to something else
Every time you agree to a job or action, or feel the need to assist, try to remember to ask yourself what the consequences will be? What are the things that matter to you most? Take a step back and ask yourself whether you are clear on your own priorities. If the request aligns with your business goals (and priorities), go for the ‘yes’. If not, a ‘no will help you go further and faster.
There is a reason behind every action – what’s yours?
People who have challenges around saying ‘no’ often have a fear of acceptance, but you can’t be or do everything for everyone. Learn to set boundaries. If you say ‘yes’ all of the time, you won’t have any energy left for yourself and will be less able to support others when they really need you. Remember that your time is precious, so allocate it to the people and projects where it’s needed most.
Don’t give into guilt
Guilt is another reason many of us default to saying ‘yes’. No one wants to feel that they are disappointing others. Does it sound familiar? It can help to remind yourself that ‘no’ is a valid and reasonable response to situations. It sounds simple but try writing the word ‘no’ down and put it somewhere you’ll see regularly. This visual cue can help to rewire your brain so guilt becomes less of a factor in your decision making.
Drill down on the consequences
The consequences of saying ‘yes’ too often are different for everyone. It can be useful to take some time to write down what those look like for you. Does it increase stress and exhaustion? Causing burnout? Does it impact on the quality of your work? Do you get less time to spend time with people that matter? Or doing the things the activities that matte to you? An unrelenting schedule can never be sustainable long-term. By drilling down on what we’re losing by saying ‘yes’, can focus our minds when it comes to saying ‘no’.
Great things are rarely achieved by just one person. Usually, they are accomplished by a group of people and when everyone is committed to the overall goal, teams move faster and are more innovative. As leaders when we say no to getting pulled into a project, we’re empowering others to take the lead and take on the challenge themselves.
Focus on what your business really needs
When you’re heading up a business it’s easy to fall into the trap of saying yes to every new opportunity. But when you’re faced with the prospect of a new client, additional project, or new focus, think about whether it’s really the right fit for you. Does it fit with your purpose, your strategy, where you want the business to be in five years’ time. If not, don’t be afraid to say ‘no’. Keep a laser-focus on your vision and mission and save your ‘yes’ for the right opportunities.
The power of ‘no’ is ultimately the power to make a decision that fits with your values and the direction of your business. By getting comfortable with it, we’re giving ourselves permission to make the right calls. To consciously make a choice that might be difficult in the short term but will bring long-term gains.