There’s a word many famous leaders have used to transform companies, industries, and cultural norms—not to mention their own personal fortunes. If this word isn’t in your vocabulary, it needs to be.
- Rosa Parks said it to a bus driver in 1955.
- Mark Zuckerberg said it to Yahoo in 2006, after the company offered him a measly $1 billion for Facebook.
- Robert Downey Jr. finally said it to drugs and became one of Hollywood’s biggest comeback kids.
In each of these cases, the word “no” meant the difference between confusion and clarity. Stagnation and growth. Mediocrity and excellence.
Saying “No” Allows You to Focus on What’s Important
“You’ve gotta keep control of your time, and you can’t unless you say no. You can’t let people set your agenda in life.” – Warren Buffett
For many managers, the day-to-day is like a 50-foot tidal wave that keeps coming. There’s just no getting out from under it. They serve many masters, saying yes to everything and everyone. They get pushed too hard, and their performance suffers.
Even worse, they miss critical opportunities along the way. Their career goals remain out of reach.
This is self-sabotage.
If only these managers felt comfortable saying “no”!
Success in business is all about making tough choices. It’s about having the confidence to say “no” to some of your boss’s unceasing demands. Saying “no” allows you to focus—i.e., to eliminate the unnecessary. And that does two things for you.
First, it makes you a better performer. Just imagine being able to do your job without having to say, “I have too much to do.” No more feeling overwhelmed. The things you do take on, you do with excellence.
Second, it allows you to think and act strategically—for the benefit of your organization and your own professional future.
The Art of Leadership: Making Strategic Choices
“Once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter.” – Greg McKeown, author, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less
If you want to excel in your job and propel your career, you need to make strategic choices. This often involves saying no to short-term gain for the sake of long-term success.
Consider the following scenario.
Would you rather be: 1) a real estate developer who chases every good deal; or 2) the best developer of Class B Medical Space in Sussex County, NJ?
If you chose #2, you chose wisely. It’s a narrow niche, but it can generate significant value. That makes it the far more strategic choice.
Now, suppose you’re that Class B Medical Space developer, and someone approaches you with a killer deal involving a condo unit in Hoboken. After six months, you can flip it for a big return. How can you say no?
Here’s the truth: The opportunity cost of saying no (the profit you’re missing out on) is far less than the cost of getting sidetracked and losing your way.
How to Say “No” Like a Pro
Whether you can say “no” like a pro depends on your ability to filter out nonessential business offers and day-to-day demands. The tighter your filter, the more you can accomplish, and the better you can focus.
Filtering is never easy, especially when your boss and coworkers always want more out of you. That’s why saying “no” like a pro requires calm, courage, and commitment—not to mention a high degree of emotional intelligence.
Here’s how to take a stand and keep your working relationships intact.
- Show respect by acknowledging the legitimacy of the request.
- Start with a helpful question, not a hard refusal.
- Stay firm on message, but go easy on the person.
- Cite facts, not feelings.
- Make it clear that your priorities align with the common interest.
- Make the call with courage and fortitude (aka chutzpah).
- People who say “yes” to everything are all over the place—overworked, unproductive, and unfulfilled. If you can master saying “no” with grace, you’ll be highly valued in the workplace. You’ll earn the respect of your boss and coworkers. And you’ll maintain a sharp and steady focus, day in and day out.