As entrepreneurs, we’re often reminded of the importance of saying “yes.” Of embracing new opportunities. Of being open to whatever comes our way.
We’re all about meeting opportunities head on, but here’s the thing: everything you say yes to depletes your time and your energy—arguably your two most valuable resources as a business owner. Are all of those “yesses” actually leading you to where you want to be?
Today we’re exploring the power of saying “no” and how using it strategically can dramatically transform your life and your business.
The Usual Suspects
In order to realize just how many people and situations are competing for your attention, let’s make a quick list, shall we?
Here are some of the usual suspects that require a yes or no answer:
- Strangers who want your time—volunteer groups, boards of directors
- Strangers who want your money—charitable organizations, little league groups
- New business opportunities
- New clients
- Employees who need help
- Job candidates who want a job
- Children’s commitments—bake sales, PTA meetings
- Extracurricular activities—church, Rotary club
- Your spouse
- Your kids
- Your in-laws
- Business organizations
This list took about two minutes to put together, and we could probably go on for half the day! Just thinking about saying yes to all of these things is exhausting, so why on earth would you consider actually doing it?
The Facts About “No”
Even though our rational minds know that saying yes to certain things (like many of those listed above) is a bad idea, we go on and do it anyway. Why?
Turns out, it’s because we’re such good people. We say that with only the slightest bit of sarcasm.
According to Psychology Today, most of us are naturally averse to conflict. Saying no to someone who asks you for something, however small, feels like a tiny conflict in our minds, and so we avoid it.
Further, all of want to be liked. With that comes the desire not to disappoint others. It takes a true leader to choose his own best interest—or his company’s best interest—over being well-liked.
There’s a great snippet from an interview with Steve Jobs from his earlier days with Apple where he touches on this. In it, he’s asked about OpenDoc, a failing software framework Jobs ultimately pulled the plug on.
Jobs offers this nugget of wisdom: “focusing is about saying no. You piss people off… you take the lumps.” But ultimately, he argues, you have to focus on what’s best for the greater vision of your business.
Despite all of the funding and man-hours poured into OpenDoc, it became apparent that it wasn’t fitting in with Apple’s business model as planned. Jobs knew he’d catch heat for cancelling the program, but he also knew it was necessary to keep the company moving forward. He made the hard decision to say no.
We should make the same tough decisions in our own life and work.
The Beauty of “No”
Saying no comes with so many benefits other than just freeing up your time.
You’ll achieve goals faster
It’s just like Steve Jobs pointed out: how can you achieve your overarching goals if you’re spending resources on projects that don’t support them?
Here’s an easy exercise. For each new opportunity that comes your way, ask yourself, does this contribute to achieving a goal for my business?
If the answer is no, you know what to say.
You’ll finish projects you care about
Entrepreneurs are often guilty of jumping into new projects before finishing their existing ones. After all, who can resist the allure of a shiny new business venture?!
If you already have several projects in the works, though, it’s best to focus on successfully completing them before saying yes to something new. Otherwise you run the risk of jumping from one thing to the next without ever achieving results.
People will respect your time
Entrepreneur and marketer Seth Godin is known and respected as a visionary in his field. He famously doesn’t take any meetings.
Godin knows that in order to get his work done, he simply can’t afford to lose the time sucked up by meetings. Because of this, you’d better believe that if he does decide to give his time to a person or cause, they’re going to appreciate it.
Don’t be frivolous with your time, and you’ll be respected in the same way.
How To Say No
So we’ve made a pretty strong case for the benefits of saying “no” more, but when it comes time to spit out the words, will you actually follow through?
Being gracious, direct and quick about it is the easiest way to go. Here are a few common propositions along with effective ways to turn them down.
Scenario: Someone asks you to take on a project.
Response: “I'm flattered that you thought of me, but I’m not in a position to take this on right now. I’ll let you know if my situation changes!”
Scenario: You’re asked to contribute money or buy something you don’t really need.
Response: “Sorry, but it doesn’t fit into our budget right now. We’ve made a commitment to allocate our available funds to (insert whatever else takes priority—staffing, training, infrastructure, etc.) this year.”
Scenario: You’re invited to be part of a new business venture.
Response: “It’s not something I can invest in right now, but I’d love to (make some other, smaller offer that requires less effort, like connecting with a colleague who might be interested).”
Scenario: You’re approached by a client who’s not a good fit.
Response: “Right now we’re focused on projects that are (insert the type of work you’re actually interested in), but maybe so-and-so would be a good fit for this.”
Don’t waffle. Don’t feel guilty. And don’t offer an unnecessarily lengthy explanation. Rip off the Band-Aid and see just how liberating “no” can be!
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Entrepreneur and presentation expert Kenny Nguyen talks on the power inherent in saying no