Agile 2018

Agile 2018
Speaking at Agile 2018

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Power of No

Sometimes it just needs to be said.
This week I wanted to discuss something which is pretty important to every business person and entrepreneur I know.  For years we have been taught the importance of yes, getting other people to say yes, saying yes to the deal, and making sure you say yes to any reasonable request.  People who say no are not team players or willing to succeed.  The reality is that saying no is as just as important to success as saying yes.

Daily we read stories about work life balance and what it takes to be successful.  A common theme in many of these articles is the ability to say yes.  It is easy to see why coaches and mentors say this.  Saying yes is easy; doing what you promised when you say yes is hard.  This way it is easier to make a promise and break it because you can always ask for forgiveness.  Business is filled with plenty of people who can make promises but cannot fulfill them.  This situation means that as a business person or leader you spend a majority of your time in a constant state of distrust because you do not know who is telling the truth and who is just saying what you want to hear.  It is madness.

This is why “no” is so powerful.  Because it cuts through the phoniness of typical business interactions and lets people know what is really going on.  The word “no” builds trust because they can honestly engage in pragmatic discussions about what can and can’t be done. I am not advocating being negative or reflexively saying no all the time but the judicious use of the word no can make your life much easier.

Let me give you a few examples:

  • Can you stay late tonight – “No, my daughter is playing softball tonight.  Can I come in early tomorrow or work on this after the game”
  • I need this software by X – “No we do not have enough developers or time to build all those features.”
  • Can you build this software for a fixed bid – “No, this does not compensate properly for the work we do.  Feel free to take your chances with someone else”
  • Can you take an extra project – “No, I am flattered but I want to devote my attention to these other projects and make them successful.  I might not give this new project the attention it deserves”

In each of those examples, saying no sets limits.  You are not being negative or hostile you are just setting limits to prevent others from exploiting your desire to help them.  There are plenty of people in business who don’t respect limits and those are people who have high turn-over and bad work environments.  By outlining limits you act as a warning sign to people in authority.  They have to hire more people or redo budgets rather than taking undo advantage of people working for them.  It also prevents vendors or clients from making demands which might cost you money.

So the next time you are tempted to say yes, take a deep breath and remember the power of no.  It may just save you time, money and aggravation.

Until next time.