No. (is a complete sentence)

How good are you at saying “no”?

At some point in my career journey, I became programmed to say yes as a default. I remember getting training to avoid words like “no” and “but”; rather, we were coached to say more positive words like “yes” and “and”.

Who would ever want to be referred to as a “no man” instead of a “yes man”?

My mother had seven children, and she would often say to us matter-of-factly, “No is a complete sentence!”

Mom, an incredible woman, wasn’t a “yes man.” (or yes woman, if that term even exists)

Truth is, Mom couldn’t say yes to everything, even if she had wanted to. With seven children, she knew that was a recipe for disaster. She needed to keep the lights on, handle our basic needs, and ensure we were all setup to be successful and contributing members of society. Simply put, she focused on her primary mission and purpose, and in order to do that she just had to say “no” to other things that would be in direct conflict of that. If Mom spoke corporate-speak, she would have said she was good at “controlling scope”.

Here’s the wake up call: Failure to say “no” may lead to your failure.

While you may be popular initially, a one-outcome decision tree (yes, yes, yes…) just doesn’t scale. There are always tradeoffs to consider.

If you want to start to improve on your “no” game, then consider helping your stakeholders understand why you are saying no. Saying “no” with full wisdom of the issue at hand can be a credible answer too. If you can get them past any emotional issues your answer is causing, they may be open to hearing why. No one wants to say “no” to be a mean person; usually, you have good sound logic for saying “no.” Explain yourself, talk about the tradeoffs and the considerations, take accountability for your answer, and soon you may find that your stakeholders will accept, and appreciate, your critical thinking.

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