The Blog.

What’s your ‘no’ strategy?

3 Jul 2019 | Communication

If it isn’t a clear yes, it’s a clear no” – Greg McKeown

I love this advice. I aspire to this advice. Most of my life, my default has been the opposite. If I couldn’t find a clear reason to say no to something, I would end up saying yes to it.

That’s one of the reasons why it’s harder for me to say no – it takes more time than saying yes.

I can say yes very quickly. There have been times when that’s served me well to go faster than the speed of fear. Other times I regret it sorely afterwards.

It takes more time because I need a clear reason.

Partly for myself – so I can be at peace with my decision, and stop second guessing myself.

Partly to honour the person who’s asking. Relationships matter to me, so if someone’s gone to the trouble of reaching out, I want to honour that relationship – even if the answer’s no.*

So how I say no matters.

* that doesn’t count for cold callers, spam bots and door-to-door salespeople who are just playing the numbers though – as there’s no relationship there to begin with!

Recently I decided to say no to applying for an award.

Part of me thought I should see it through – out of appreciation to the person who had nominated me, or because it seemed like the right and brave thing to do, or well… because I’d written about it before and I wanted to keep my word.

Particularly when they tweeted me to remind me to apply, I wanted to say a clear no, rather than ignore it and let the deadline slip by.

The reasoning in my own head was this:

It’s mentally intensive, filling in an application form and extolling your own virtues. As anyone who’s ever written their own ‘about me’ web page, LinkedIn profile, CV or job application will know – writing about yourself is hard! I can do hard things, but what would this particular hard thing actually achieve?

The judging criteria didn’t match my own success criteria. Financial performance, and local community impact, for example. All really good things, but not the key things I’m focusing on right now in my business – and not what I want to be judged for actually. Spending time aligning myself to those criteria would actually be a distraction, not an achievement.

And this is how I ended up saying no:

email of saying no

Notice how I didn’t actually explain my reasons? Because in this case, my reasons were for my benefit. I didn’t need to justify them. Once they were clear to me, I found I could say no clearly.

There are other times when it is worth explaining your reasons. 

I was on the receiving end of a ‘no’ when I reached out to a fellow writer to see if she was interested in exploring a potential collaboration.

Instead of a flat out no, she took the time to explain why my proposition wasn’t right for her right now. A couple of emails later, we reached an agreeable understanding.

It took us both time to do that, but I’d like to think that’s time invested in the foundations of a potentially productive relationship in the future.

How about you? What’s your ‘no’ strategy? Do you need a good reason to say no – and therefore need to give yourself time to get to a clear no? Or are you more like the Greg McKeowns of this world?

I’d love to know where this takes you. Leave me a comment or get in touch. 


Image if author Grace Marshall

About Grace

I coach, train, write and speak on productivity. I help people adopt new ways of working and thinking about their work to replace stress, overwhelm and frustration with success, sanity and satisfaction.

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