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The power of no

John Wells

John Wells

September 30, 2022

When opportunity knocks, your first instinct might be to open the door. However, welcoming all opportunities isn’t always the best choice. Sometimes, you’re better off leaning into the power of “no.”

The problem is that not all opportunities are the right opportunities. They might not align with your business, your culture, or your corporate values. Businesses that accept all opportunities can get themselves into trouble. Taking a more thoughtful approach—though understandably challenging at first—leaves you less likely to overburden your people or even weaken your client portfolio.

“No” isn’t just for new client opportunities, either. “No” can be just as powerful when used with current clients. Certainly, you must be judicious and not cavalier when turning down a current client’s opportunity. But telling a client “no” or severing your relationship can energize your team and produce extra bandwidth. Again, this isn’t something you should do all the time but can help boost your overall business financial performance in the long term.

What Makes ‘No’ Such a Powerful Word?

So why is it possible to have so much of an impact on your company, your culture, your reputation, and your client experience by adding “no” into your vocabulary? There are several reasons. The first is that being able to turn down projects reduces distractions. To do your best work, you need to be able to prioritize and focus. Saying “no” to things that don’t provide enough value to your organization returns time, energy, and other resources to you and your colleagues.

Secondly, using “no” regularly tends to have a positive impact on employee engagement. When you don’t flood workers with anything that comes your way, you show them that you’re not just in business to hit metrics. You’re there to do a particular kind of work.

Finally, “no” to current clients enables you to showcase and highlight your company’s individuality and expertise. Ideally, your client relationships should be built on straightforward, transparent communication and collaboration. Being able to tell a client “no” to something you feel is ill-advised for them to do indicates that you’re honest and trustworthy. It can be tough to tell a client that you aren’t on board with one of their ideas. It can be even tougher to tell them “no” if you’ve always said “yes” in the past. Yet you’ll find that it has serious upsides for solidifying your position as a no-nonsense, genuine expert.

Tips for Incorporating 'No' Into Client-Facing Discussions

Learning to have confidence around when to say “no” takes time. The following strategies have been helpful for us.

  1. Listen to your gut.

This sounds clichéd, but it’s true. Nonetheless, you should be aware of your first instincts when a project comes your way. As you evaluate it, do you feel that it may be something that will send you off-track or be otherwise unfeasible? Trust what your years of knowledge are telling you in your brain and heart.

  1. Ask yourself a few pointed questions when you see an opportunity.

Are you someone who likes to have a list of questions handy to serve as a guide when making decisions? Try these questions on for size. If any of your answers are “no,” chances are good that you should say “no” to the opportunity.

  • Is this in the best interest of the client?
  • Is this in the best interest of the client’s customers?
  • Is this in the best interest of our team?
  1. Explain each “no.”

Clients typically deserve more than a blanket “no” without any explanation. For instance, if you’re realizing a relationship with a client isn’t working and you want to end your relationship, you may want to present your rationale. Or if you are turning down new business, you might want to give evidence as to why it’s the wrong type of opportunity for your company’s needs. By explaining “no,” you highlight that you’ve considered all angles.

The power of “no” may not feel intuitive, particularly if you’re accustomed to leading startups or other businesses that accept all opportunities. Have patience with yourself. You can learn to fold “no” into your vocabulary—and will probably lean on it more often than you realize. You’ll also get the advantage of teaching your team how to use “no” as well.

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