When many keen entrepreneurs start out on the path to growing their business, they are often guilty of making one huge mistake more than any other. Unfortunately, because this error is so ingrained in our very being, it’s not something that we recognize straight away, which means it happens over and over again.
In fact, making this mistake isn’t confined exclusively to the business arena; it’s something that the majority of us do for most of our adult lives without even realizing it.
The mistake I’m referencing is trying to be all things to all people – being a people pleaser in other words. After all, saying yes is so much easier than saying no, right?
But, the truth is, the moment you stop saying yes, things will change for the better. You’ll make more money, your team, customers and clients will be happier and, most importantly, people will stop seeing you as an easy target.
This might sound crazy, but telling them what they don’t want to hear can actually make things better, and in this blog, I’m going to talk you through exactly how this works.
In order to start saying yes to what truly matters to you, you must first have a firm grasp of what your core priorities and aspirations are. Defining clear short and long-term objectives will help you contextualize your daily decisions and how you shape your task lists.
Think about whether the new project or request that’s landed on your desk will help you achieve any of your short or long-term objectives, or are they just a deviation from the path you’ve set out for yourself and your business?
One of the biggest reasons that we say yes to people is almost always universal: we want to please people. Humans are social creatures, and by keeping people happy we believe we can retain that human connection.
The truth is though, the more you say yes to someone, the less happy they are likely to become. In fact, they may actually become more irate.
That said, there will always be a time and place to say yes to someone, but when a request is unrealistic or will put you in an awkward position, this is when you need to act.
Two of the most common requests that are tough to say no to in business are discount requests and unrealistically imposed deadlines.
For example, let’s say that you’re so keen to bring a new client into your business, that you agree to a drastically reduced monthly fee. In this case, you’ve put yourself into a situation where you can’t really put any time and energy into working with that client because you need to focus your attention on other clients that will actually make you money.
This means that you’ve got a client that’s stuck in limbo; you’re unable to deliver what you promised, and they’re likely to become upset with you when they realize that results aren’t swinging in their favour.
The same will apply to your team too.
If you’ve fostered a culture where no one feels as though they can say no, and you or a member of your management team has asked for a task to be completed in an unrealistic timeline, not only are you likely to miss the deadline; but you’ll probably have a disgruntled employee on your hands that’s upset at not being able to speak up.
These examples serve to show that saying yes will make people happy in the short-term, but over time you’ll have to face up to the disappointment and even anger of your customers and employees.
There are numerous emotional and psychological triggers behind our reluctance to say no. Perhaps, you’re worried about letting people down. Or maybe you think that lost opportunities and burnt bridges will result when you do finally say no, leaving you with the feeling that it may stop you taking advantage of opportunities in the future. Perhaps it’s just as simple as the fact that you’d just prefer to avoid the discomfort of a potential conflict that results in putting your opinion forward?
Whatever it is, as a business leader, it’s essential for you to comprehend and manage the underlying emotion that pushes you towards trying to keep people happy. Keep in mind, as we’ve mentioned, that saying no to someone may close one door, but there are many other windows of opportunity to explore elsewhere, where your time and capital can be far better spent.
Similarly, saying no doesn’t mean you’re not a good person, or a good boss; it means that you’ve simply decided that your own priorities and boundaries are more likely to bear the fruits of success.
Of course, once you are prepared to say no, you need to explain precisely how and why you’ve come to your decision. No, is a mighty word, ripe with negative connotations that could upset someone if you’re not using it correctly.
If you’re prepared to be helpful and clear, then you’ll find that people are far more responsive. For example, if a client is trying to drive your SEO rates down, you might say:
“Unfortunately, it’s just not possible for us to drop down to X. We charge this because we know this is what it will cost for us to get results, if we drop below this, we wouldn’t have the time or budget to deliver what is expected of us.”
As we mentioned in the previous point, you may not be wired to be so direct, but once you’re able to step out of your comfort zone, you’ll see a marked improvement within your business.
You may even notice that your employees feel more comfortable speaking up in the face of an unrealistic deadline, for example:
“I’m happy to help you complete the task, but it isn’t feasible for me to meet the deadline you’ve set for me, because of X, Y and Z.”
You’ll see that in both of these examples, the end result is that someone has been told “no”, but it’s a far softer and methodical approach. This person may not enjoy what they’re hearing, but by being proactive and polite, you remain on course to achieve the goals and objectives you’ve set for yourself, your team and your business.
Of course, you’ve heard the phrase, “play hard to get”.
From a psychological position, we have a higher perceived value for something that may not be in reach. In this situation, saying no can help you build a desire around your brand because you’re placing yourself on the very highest shelf.
People are more likely to want to work with you and pay the price you’ve quoted if you hold your ground. In addition to this, if a business seems a little too desperate to bring in business by offering discounts and bending to the whims of their customers, people will quite rightly begin to become suspicious and ask themselves, why this is the case. So, in this respect, it can actually be damaging to your brand.
But, the most significant side-effect of saying yes in sales when people begin asking for more or wanting to pay less, is that at the very moment you say yes, the first thing that crosses the mind of that customer is “what else can I get?”
Now you’ve potentially revealed your weakness, and in the end, you’ll wind up in a position that doesn’t make sense for your business.
Saying no, particularly when it comes to the sales aspect of your business, is especially important, as it puts you in a position to make higher-quality sales.
Similar to when you’re onboarding new clients, once you begin to bend to the whims of your current customer base, it’s a slippery slope.
The very second a client sees you move an inch, more often than not they’ll swoop in a take a mile.
Even if a client asks you to do something that may lead to more significant projects in the future, if those requests are out of sync with your priorities and aspirations, you should still say no.
That’s not to say that you shouldn’t do everything in your power to keep your clients happy, but you need to remember exactly what product or service it is they’re paying for. And if every once in a while, you’d like to overdeliver for your client, then, by all means, do so. But ensure that this over delivery is strictly on your terms.
In other words, if you’d like to go above and beyond for your customer when they don’t expect it, that’s great – in fact it will make you look good. But if you agree to go above and beyond at the behest of your client, then you’ll find yourself in the same situation time and again.
This one is undoubtedly the trickiest proposition, as you certainly don’t want to upset the people that work for you and create a negative working environment.
But if you find that you or any member of your team are undertaking tasks that aren’t in line with your company priorities and aspirations, you need to really consider why this is happening and stamp it out.
I’ll refer you back to the point we made earlier here though, if the way you’re saying no is encouraging a point-blank refusal to do something, it will cause problems, it’s always better to back up your stance with a reasonable explanation.
So long as your explanations are rational and sensible, you can encourage this behaviour throughout your team to ensure that, in theory, no one is undertaking tasks that aren’t taking the business in the direction you need it to.
In addition to this, you’ll need to supplement reasons for not doing something with an alternative strategy; this is key as it helps to keep everyone pulling in the same direction.
By doing this, you can foster a decisive “no” culture within your business. Sure, being told no won’t immediately make team members happy, but in the long run, you can ensure that you’re seen as a strong leader, and your team can feel confident speaking up when necessary.
Whether in business or in your personal life, attempting to be all things to all people will only make your life harder, when your attempts to make someone else happy at the expense of your own happiness, backfire.
Of course, that might sound counter-intuitive, but this is certainly true in my experience in business.
The next time someone asks you for something you know is unreasonable, simply stand firm and say no. Calmly and succinctly explain to them why you feel this is unfeasible and present an alternative path where possible.
We live in a fast-paced world where infinite choices are posed to us at every turn. By saying yes to everything, you’re opening yourself out to a stream of paperwork, emails, phone calls, unreasonable deadlines on projects and angry customers. The simplicity of the word no means that you give yourself the time and space to understand your priorities and aspirations.
Before I wrap up this blog, I’d just like to say that what we’ve talked about is definitely not about saying a definitive no to every opportunity that swings your way. Rather, is it about disassociating the word from the negative connotations that are so often correlated with it and approaching it as just another tool in your business communications arsenal.
It’s a word that commands respect, and can even bring about its own set of unique opportunities once you’ve practised how to wield it effectively.