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Learn to Say "No"

The most difficult thing for managers (and most people) is saying "no" the right way. Why do I say "the right way"? Because lots of managers can say no, but they do it in a quick, dismissive way designed simply to avoid doing anything new or challenging.

Let's be clear - the point of saying "no" isn't to avoid doing things. We all know that "Dr. No" person who says no to everything without even thinking about it. The point is to ensure that you are doing the RIGHT things. You don't have time to do everything, so doing the right thing ensures you have the best chance at success.

But how do you say "no" politely. I follow three key rules: direct, sincere, and clear.

Direct: I start out very clearly saying "no". Too often misunderstandings occur because we try to couch language so we don't feel bad. We say things like "I'll have to check my schedule" or "I'll try".

Sincere: This means I have a good reason for not attending. For example, it isn't a priority for me, I don't have the level of expertise, etc. Your reasoning shouldn't be that you don't want to (remember, your job isn't to do what you want, it is to do what will help the company meet goals). The biggest mistake with this is someone saying "no" too fast. If you haven't thought about it, how can you make a sincere decision?

Clear: I also explain my reasoning. I do so honestly - because that is the only way to create trusting relationships. It may be OK to give the little white lie to your neighbor about why you can't come to the weekend BBQ, but you don't need to do that in business.

A great example. Recently, I had someone I know call me about a project with one of her clients. She wanted to know if I was interested. After hearing a bit about it, here is how I responded:

"Thanks for the offer, but I am not the right person for the project so I'll have to pass. Based on what you said, I might be able to help them, but they really need someone with more technical expertise than I have. I want you to look good to the client and I want to make sure I put myself is a position to best use my skills. This isn't it. I'll see if I can think of someone who might be a better fit for the project and let you know."

Notice that I was clear up front, I acknowledged I heard her reasoning, but I also explained my situation. I also, as a bonus, offered an alternative.

She may still be disappointed or angry with me, but I was polite, professional, and honest. In the long run, that benefits everyone.

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