8 Ways Leaders Say No

8 Ways Leaders Say NoNO. One of the simplest words in the English dictionary yet loaded with the potential to evoke so many fears!

Many of us cringe at the thought of saying No. We would rather suffer in silence than face our fears!

Although leaders often find themselves in situations much the same as anyone else, when it comes to saying no, they are able to deliver their message effectively. Have you ever wondered how they are able to summon dignity and compassion while making the intent of their bold message transparent to everyone?

Leaders often have a clear vision, which acts as a beacon in helping them effortlessly eliminate anything that doesn’t correspond with that vision. Instead of fearing the word, leaders use their no as a weapon in their arsenal.

People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying ‘no’ to 1,000 things.

— Steve Jobs

By developing a clear vision you too can filter any request, demand or opportunity that doesn’t meet your criteria.

  • Is it aligned to your values?
  • Is it a high enough priority?
  • Does it fit into your schedule?
  • Will it pose any additional barriers to achieving your goals?
  • Does it meet your philosophy and your policy?
  • Will the opportunity open new doors for you?
  • Is it worth sacrificing your schedule or making other tradeoffs?
  • Will you regret not having left the option open to pursue it at a later date?
  • By rejecting this opportunity, are you rejecting your deepest desires?

Before you communicate your decision to decline or discard an opportunity altogether, be sure to run it through your filter.

But when you are ready to say no, you can act like a leader by focusing on how you say no. You can watch the tone of your refusal; you can be respectful and assertive at the same time.

Saying no in the right way will help your clients and managers understand and respected your decision; it will help them accept your boundaries.

1) Leaders say no when they have other commitments

A leader gains clarity on her strengths and her skills. She ensures that she has planned ample time for excellent execution of her commitments.

Be a leader and let your client know if you have already committed your time elsewhere. They will appreciate your candor!

“I am focusing on other priorities right now. I am unable to commit to any additional projects.”

2) Leaders say no when their clients can do better

While it is tempting to take on every new opportunity, are you the best person to handle it? Could someone be a better fit; someone who is more skilled in that particular subject; someone who has more time on their hands?

When your client or associate can receive better, faster and greater service from someone else, don’t hesitate to say so!

“I am not the best person to answer that question/take on that project. Why don’t you try contacting X? I heard that she worked on a similar effort recently.”

3) Leaders say no when they can’t afford distractions

Feel free to push back if your client interrupts your work or waylays you when you are headed to an urgent meeting. Suggest that they connect with you at a later date.

One of the easiest ways to circumvent such situations is to keep your calendar updated and open. Keep a few spots available for “impromptu coffee chats”.

“I am in the middle of something else right now, but I have some time available on Friday afternoon. Why don’t we catch up for coffee and discuss your problem then?”

4) Leaders say no when the opportunity isn’t right

One of my favorite marketing gurus Michael Port insists that all service professionals adopt a “Velvet Rope Policy“. I love this concept not just because it is reminiscent of the theatre!

It is only by gaining clarity on the type of clients you want to serve through your strengths, can you really dedicate your time to doing meaningful work.

“Although that opportunity sounds intriguing, it doesn’t meet my needs at the moment. But I will be sure to keep it in mind.”

5) Leaders say no when they are unsure

If you are unclear about whether an opportunity fits into your schedule or your policies, do take the time to consider it.

By doing so, you avoid the dilemma of appearing rude and show your client that you believe their project carries some merit. Instead of dismissing the idea altogether, you can pull a page out of the Agile Manifesto by recording such ideas into a Backlog.

“Let me think about it and get back to you in a few days.”

“I recommend that we place this idea on a backburner and get back to it later.”

6) Leaders say no to guide others towards a better direction

Leaders understand that the client is not always right. Instead of immediately accepting your client’s request or rejecting it outright, you can keep the dialogue going by guiding the client towards a direction that suits both of your needs.

“What if we tried a different approach? Would you like to explore that line of thought?”

7) Leaders say no to empower their clients

You may believe that as an authority on the subject you are required to respond to every request, yet find that your time has been committed or that it is not in your best interests to answer each enquiry that comes your way.

You can eliminate this issue by teaching your clients to help themselves.

“My team can’t help you right now, but have you checked our Self Service portal? Be sure to bookmark this site since it has a ton of useful information! We will be happy to walk through this information at your next team meeting.”

8) Leaders say no to because they can’t always say yes

No matter how many times you beat around the bush, at some point in time you are going to have come outright and say it!

“No. I am sorry, I can’t!”

No justification, no explanations and no fear. A simple and strong “No!”

The beauty of learning to say no is that the more often you say it, the easier it becomes to build intolerance for any demand or opportunity that impedes your ability to lead your most authentic life.

It has been 11 years since I let a client hijack a memorable anniversary dinner. Since then, I have learned to say no to anything that doesn’t match my talents, schedule or my philosophy.

I have found that by saying no to the wrong things, I am saying yes to all the right things.

“Yes” to less stress; “Yes” to more time for deep work; and “Yes” to a healthier and happier me!

Have you learned to say no to the things that don’t correspond to your vision? What is your one takeaway from this article? Please share your thoughts in the comments section!

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