You have the power, be brave and say “No”!

The inspiration for this article came from my dog and her refusal to take no for an answer when eyeing up some sausages on the table. I remembered my dog trainer reminding me of the need to be the boss and be clear and assertive to get the message across that no meant no.

Now I’m not suggesting that you talk to other people like you talk to the dog but the underlying principle of being clear and assertive could save you a lot of time and trouble.

I did a quick list off the top of my head of some of the times as a boss you need to say no. I’ve added some of the consequences that a simple clear no could have avoided. I expect you could add a few more examples quite easily.

Cold callers. They just keep you on their list to phone again. Or worse you end up agreeing to see them knowing you’re not going to buy which leads to the next item

Sales meeting. You’re not going to buy but agree to a follow-up call which you then have to field or more usually get someone to say “you’re in a meeting” which leads to a further call down the line. This can go on for months.

Invitations. To events you don’t want to attend. Now you’re saddled with making an excuse at the last moment. “a client had an emergency” . Never mind, you’re on their list so will get invited next time. What’s your next excuse going to be? “The cat died”

Requests to sponsor. Everyone has their favourite charity who all run events and it’s “only a tenner”. How deep are your pockets?

Staff requests. From leaving early to coming in late. Last-minute days off or holiday. Who picks up their workload? Is it you or do you pile it onto someone else’s desk who then makes a request of their own?

Partners or managers. Agreeing a purchase over budget or a last-minute good idea they had which meant they didn’t need to say no themselves to the cold caller.

Informal recruitment. My mum/son/friend can do that for you. Even though they have no experience in that area.

If any of this rings true then maybe it’s time to be clearer and more assertive. Here are some stages to work through to help you using examples drawn from the list.

  1. Be in the right mind set. If this person is asking you to make a decision they are conceding that you have the right to say “no” as well as saying “yes”. You have the power, so use it wisely.
  1. Prepare in advance. Many of these decisions you can pre-empt with a little forethought and some simple policies. For example if you have policies around flexible working, how to book holidays, compassionate leave, etc. How is cover arranged? Does your receptionist have instructions on how to handle cold callers? Have you a process for requests over and above the agreed budget? Have a company Charity of the Year initiative.
  1. Have a decision making process, even if it is in your head. Take the time to reflect, gather more information, and consult with others? What might seem a small issue to you might be incredibly valuable to the other person. They want to know you’re taking the matter seriously.
  1.  Feel good about the decision even if it was hard to make and will disappoint others. Are you comfortable with your decision? What are the benefits and potential costs to you ? Is it your decision or is there a little voice in the back of your head saying “this is what you should do”?

So you know you want to say no and you know it’s the best decision. Now what will make a difference to the other person is the way you put it across.

Keep it clear and unambiguous. If you avoid the direct no the chances are you will leave your requester with hope and expectations that you’ll most likely never meet. “Leave it with me and I’ll look at it later in the year if we can afford it”

So only add in hope if you really mean it. “I cannot justify that expense at this time so my answer to your request is ‘No’. I would be happy to look at this again next year so factor it into your budget for next year”

Be assertive. Once you’ve made the decision, be comfortable with it and put it across firmly. The way you do this will matter. Avoid apologising with soft-soap openings like “I’m really sorry but…” or “I’d really like to but…” These phrases make people consciously or unconsciously see you as weak on this decision. They may then try to coerce you into changing your mind. Ever made a response like that to a cold caller and they immediately try to turn the conversation around countering whatever you’ve said.

Share your reason and stress your policy if in place. So that they feel that they have been heard. No need to go into a lot of justification. More along the lines of “I’ve heard what you’ve said but we have a commitment to another charity and no plans to change that”.

To finish with, I’d just like to stress the importance of having the right mindset so you feel confident in saying no. What you want to be left with at the end is the other person respecting your decision.

I’ll leave you with a short anecdote drawn from my own experience of cold calling which left the MD making a very poor decision through failing to say no to me in the first place.

Early in my consultancy career I bought sales appointments and as a result went to see the MD of a smallish company. He identified a need for some specialist help that I couldn’t give so I agreed with him to meet a colleague of mine who could help and we set up a date for a three-way meeting. My colleague and I duly turned up at the appointed time and were met by a rather flustered receptionist who said she was really sorry but Mr. F was off sick.

Then whilst standing in the car park apologising to my colleague for a wasted journey I noticed Mr. F peeping at us out of the side door. I didn’t embarrass him by going back in and needless to say I didn’t make a sale either.

If you find yourself doing anything close to this then please seek some coaching help around assertiveness.

Jacky Sherman
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Jacky Sherman

In 2003 Jacky left her post as the CEO of the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital and set up her own coaching company. Realising she knew little about marketing her own business and as a result felt very de-skilled. She found the support and help she needed from two main sources. First she undertook formal training with Asentiv, the business development company that she bought into a few years later. The other source was the willingness of other business owners on the local networking scene to share their knowledge and contacts with a newcomer who freely admitted she was not a natural networker. Now semi-retired she pays forward that generosity by mentoring others who have come out of employment as experts in their field but find that running a business at times is uncomfortable territory. She finds a way of helping the most unnatural entrepreneur build a business in a way that is natural to them.