I've called it the most powerful word in business.
Using it properly can mean the difference between:
What is this almighty expression, you ask?
The word, no.
I wrote about the power of "no" earlier this year, when Mr. Tom Hanks was asked how he went from making box office bombs to critically acclaimed hits--and became one of the most popular film stars of our generation along the way.
In reference to the variety of film roles he was being offered, Hanks said the following:
I realized...that I had to start saying a very, very difficult word to people, which was "no."
The odd lesson for that is, I figured out that's how you end up making the favorable work you do.... Saying yes, then you just work. But saying no means you made the choice of the type of story you wanted to tell and the type of character you want to play.
There's a strong principle here. Consider another example:
Jony Ive, Apple's design chief and the man Steve Jobs once called his "spiritual partner," said that every day, Jobs would ask him the same question: "How many times did you say no today?"
It's that ability to decide when to say no, says Ive, that made Jobs "the most remarkably focused person I've ever met in my life."
Some will argue that "no" is a luxury of the privileged. That may be true...to a degree. But even during stages of life when I didn't have much, I always held on to my core values. So, whether you're working for someone else or still establishing your own business, principle should always dictate the need to say "no"...to some things.
Getting Past Guilt
The problem, of course, is we often feel guilty about saying no. We don't want to hurt the person's feelings, or hurt the relationship somehow.
So, how do you build up the courage and fortitude to say no when it counts?
The Savvy Psychologist, Ellen Hendriksen, PhD, wrote about this in conjunction with her podcast, under the theme: How to Say No (Without Feeling Guilty).
Here are her tips:
1. Offer an alternative.
"Decline the request, but offer a consolation prize," says Hendriksen, adding: "This is the easiest way to say no."
This technique can even help the person coming to you. For example, many use the "throw it at the wall and see what sticks" strategy, despite its inefficiency. By informing the other person what you're looking for, you help them to save time and focus their efforts--and help yourself at the same time.
2. Be persistent.
Hendriksen acknowledges that some folks will push and ask more than once, or will pester you to try to wear you down.
Don't fall for it: Just say no. And mean it.
"You don't have to be soulless about it," she advises. (A little compassion goes a long way.) But it's far too easy for "no" to transform into "maybe." And "maybe's" cousins "well, ok, just this time" and "fine, go ahead" are always close behind.
Once you've made your decision, don't keep thinking about it; force yourself to move on.
3. Don't apologize.
"Apologizing is for when you've done something wrong, says Hendriksen. "It may seem like a fine line between not apologizing and being rude, but done well, 'no' can be gracious and polite."
It's true--apologizing just reinforces the idea that you should be saying yes more than you say no--when the correct strategy is exactly the opposite.
Putting It Into Practice
Every day, you're faced with difficult choices about your work. Should I take that meeting? Do I want this client? Do I really want to "sell out?"
Think hard, and learn to say no with confidence.
Every time you say yes to something you don't really want, you're actually saying no to the things you do.