The Art of Saying ‘No’


The Art of Saying 'No'

Social, logical, peer, market and other mis-understood factors compel us to acquiesce, to go with the flow, and accept offers and responsibilities even if we aren’t interested. Sadly, we may then locked in to paying something, doing something, making time for something that we didn’t want to do in the first place. Worse than that, it makes us easier targets for next time, and blocks us from taking the time and money and resources to focus on what we *do* want to do.

Below are some thoughts on staying centered to your purpose, along with specific examples of how others may try to manipulate and entice you to take actions which would not necessarily benefit you.

  1. Stay centered to your purpose. Core to understanding your power and effectiveness is to understand who you are, what your role, value and purpose are, and how that fits into where the industry is trending and what customers are looking for. When you are centered, it will be much easier to say ‘no’ and understand why.
    1. The Flexibility Strategy – if you are not centered on your value and direction, others may manipulate you into being more flexible than you’d like to be.
    2. The Ulterior Motive Strategy – without this centeredness, others may leverage your energy and resources to serve their own purposes.
    3. The Great-Opportunity Strategy – often, others will try to engage you in volunteering or supporting a cause or project. Ask yourself first, what’s-in-it-for-me? Does it fit your long-term or short terms goals? Why is this other person interested in having you involved?
  2. Know your values, but don’t be manipulated by others because of the values you have. Being a principled leader is important, but beware those who would manipulate you because of the values you have. Say no emphatically to them.
    1. The Consistency Strategy – sometimes people will catch you in an inconsistency and use it to manipulate you into doing something you didn’t want to do. For example, if one person gets to use the special parking spot, work from home on Fridays, or <insert your favorite perk>, then others may want the same perk. So know the implications of the actions and decisions you make and make policy changes if necessary. Having a policy up-front about who-gets-what-when-and-why will also help.
    2. The Free-Gift Strategy – sometimes people will do you a favor, with strings attached. They may do you a favor or give you a gift, with the expectation that you would do something in exchange. They would rely on your value of fairness and generosity to manipulate you into doing something you don’t necessarily want to do, as a tit-for-tat. If that’s the case, you can see if strings are attached first, return the gift or favor, offer to do something else instead, or accept that NOT returning the favor or gift is OK with your values, given the circumstances.
    3. The Scratch-Your-Back Strategy – the scratch-your-back strategy does not necessarily involve a free gift, but it’s something someone offers with the expectation of getting something in return. Engage carefully with people who adopt this mentality, and consider carefully what their expectations are for the things they do for you.
  3. Focus on the team, but don’t be manipulated to serve the team. Of course ‘we’ comes before ‘me’ for any leader, but don’t let others cajole you into putting the team first, to serve their own interest, rather than looking out for the need of the team. See the game for what it is and just say no.
    1. The Team-First Strategy – Beware the person who wants to cajole you into doing something you may not necessarily want to do, for the good of the team. Investigate underlying motives for the request and implications if you go in that direction.
    2. The Me-Too Strategy – If all the team choose oranges, don’t feel the pressure to go with oranges when you would prefer apples. Sometimes consistency benefits the team, and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes being an individual helps the team choose variance, which could add spice to the equation, in a good way.
    3. The Cover-Me Strategy – If team members habitually have others cover for them, are they pulling their weight? Why are they needing cover so often? What are the underlying motivations and issues? How can you support transparent communication and equitable treatment?
  4. Own the timing of your decisions. Don’t feel pressure to do something on someone else’s timeline, especially when you don’t first understand where they are coming from. If you don’t have time to fully consider something, err on the side of no.
    1. The Hurry-Up Strategy – If you don’t decide now, you will miss out forever! This hurry-up strategy leverages the natural fear of scarcity/not-having something. Be sure it’s something you really want at the time you want it to help ensure others aren’t using it against you.
    2. The What-a-Bargain Strategy – For a limited time only, you can have this product or resource! Do you need whatever-it-is? Is the rate quoted what you’re willing to pay? Why is someone making you this offer? Why now? What’s the consequence of not engaging now?
    3. The And-There’s-More Strategy – If you engage NOW, you will get this free gift/resource/access, etc. Engage on your terms, not because of any throw-in bonuses.
  5. Know fact from fiction. Don’t let someone manipulate the facts to serve their own purposes. That’s a big no-no!
    1. The False Authority Strategy – Beware the trusted authority who makes a recommendation for you to buy something or do something, without the background and credentials to do so.
    2. The Biased Authority Strategy – Beware the trusted authority who may be an expert, but may have ulterior motives for making the recommendations they make.
    3. The Bad Data Strategy – Data can be twisted in many directions. Trust the source and their motivations before you let the data help them make their case.
  6. Know whom to trust. Surround yourself with people you trust, and always know the motivations of people, even when you trust them. If your gut tells you something’s missing or someone isn’t on the up-and-up, listen to it and err on the side of saying no.
    1. The Likeability Strategy – Some people are really charismatic and charming and inspiring. Make sure that they know what they are saying and know why they are asking for whatever-they-are-asking-for. Don’t let them use their likeability against you.
    2. The He-Said, She-Said Strategy – People sometimes make you take sides in a decision or argument. Knowing the facts and acting rationally while preserving relationships and putting the team and company first would then be the objective.
    3. The Leg-Up Strategy – Some people will have a ploy to serve their own purpose, saying one thing while thinking and acting another. These people are serving their own interests, putting themselves above yourself and others to get a leg-up. Don’t let these kinds of people win out!
  7. Know whom to follow when change happens. The pressure to make choices is high when change happens. Knowing what to do and whom to follow will help you remain centered and make choices effectively. Even if you follow the right people when change happens, sometimes the answer is ‘no’, so stand strong by your answer and know why.
    1. The I-was-there-for-you Strategy – Some people will try to cajole you into going their direction, based on what they’ve done for you in the past. This strategy is often used after you’ve declined that request. Try to do the right thing for yourself, saying no, if that’s what’s right, while retaining the relationship.
    2. The I’m-the-Expert Strategy – When change happens, sometimes people paint themselves as the expert in the new area, or are even hired to facilitate that change because of their past successes. Are they are the real thing? How do you know?
    3. The Pick-A-Side Strategy – Emotions can run high when change happens, and sometimes there’s pressure to pick a side. Think through the issues and choices and implications, and also whether there’s a need to pick a side, and the timing to pick a side as well.
  8. Support change in alignment with industry trends. Know where the industry is trending and what customers are looking for. Say no when you’re pressured to do something that doesn’t support your own understanding of what the customers need.
    1. The Complacency Choice – Sometimes when change happens, there’s a camp that wants things to remain the way they were, for that was what worked in the past. There can be a lot of pressure to maintain the status quo and remain in the comfort zone, and pressure from people to keep things the way they are. But remember that saying no to the status quo is generally a path to advancement when change is necessary.
    2. The I’ve-Done-This-Before Strategy – Find out how to support positive change, working with the leadership team. Is the person elected to lead the change the qualified person to do so? What are they asking of you and others? Do you agree? Why or why not?
    3. The Fork-in-the-Road Strategy – When there’s a move to go in a new direction, what is the thinking and data behind it? What are you asked to do to support it? Is it reasonable? Know enough about markets, trends and customers to have a measured opinion about the adopted new strategy and direction.
  9. Choose the ‘and’. Sometimes there’s pressure to do that either-or. Try to say no to that ‘either-or’ and think of the ‘and’.
    1. Maybe you don’t have to choose between old and new. Maybe the old can help serve the new, or the new needs elements of the old. How can you make things bigger and better in combining the two?
    2. Maybe you don’t have to choose between technologies. Elements of one technology or functionalities of another may complement each other.
    3. Maybe you can choose this market (or product) *and* that market (or product), and maybe choosing one market (or product) will make it easier to enter the second.
  10. Know when to walk. Sometimes your logical response should be such a big ‘no’ that you walk away.
    1. Mis-Alignment with Market Trends – if you don’t believe that your company and team are acting in alignment with the market and customer needs, and there’s no opportunity to shift the direction, it’s an exercise in futility.
    2. Mis-Alignment with Values – if you’re working with people who don’t share your values, it’s not worth the effort.
    3. Mis-Alignment Between Leaders – if the leadership team can’t see eye-to-eye and puts the company in front of their egos, nobody will win. There will be much suffering and gradual decline.

We hope these thoughts help you enhance your ability to say no, and understand your reasons for doing so. May you focus on doing and achieving what you really want, while understanding the motivations of others who want to shape your decisions.


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