You Said … What?

Saying NoIf you want to build a successful professional career or business you have to learn how to say no. You have to say no to employees, you have to say no to suppliers and you even have to learn how to say no to customers and you even have to learn how to say no to colleagues.

Saying no is an art form. If done properly and well, when you say no to someone they may even thank you. And, that’s what your goal is…..or at least I hope it is.

Most of us have difficulty with saying no in difficult situations. In a previous post, “Scope Creep” is a typical type of situation where you must say no, or at least renegotiate. When I agree to a project, I include a clause that includes the prior agreement to “bill” for the extra hours. If the change is merely administrative and does not involve actual work or production hours, I am willing to accommodate a client.

Alternatively, it is easy to decide to avoid a conversation about the agreement and just do the extra work. I guarantee that before long you will resent the amount of extra work that you are doing for free!

One thing to remember is that this is not your clients fault, it’s yours. You should have had a conversation before the engagement began to expand. I know the feeling that we have that we can just “do just this one thing.” Before long the one can become two or more things and this is when you can become resentful.

I believe that it is imperative that we are clear about what we can or will do as it relates to any agreements that we make. Now, in certain situations, all of us feel good (nothing wrong with a little ego boost) when others ask us to do something because they believe that we have talent or a certain skill set. However, if this request occurs in a work, business or professional context, this is also “Scope Creep.” This may not be controllable in every situation if you are an employee, but certainly if you are in business, make sure that your agreements are within your scope of service. One other point, when possible, it is better to work as comprehensively as possible with clients because your professional antennae are attuned and attenuated to the vagaries that normally occur in the type of work that you do.

When you do have a problem and think you might have to say no make sure you listen carefully to what’s being asked. You should always ask clarifying questions about what the person you’re working with wants. You might find that what you think they want you to do and what they really want are two very different things.
You also might find that when you ask clarifying questions the client or customer will realize that they are asking for things you’ve not agreed to do. This often leads to avoiding a misunderstanding. If not, you get to move to the next level of saying no.

This is an important step. If you have to say no, present a reasonable alternative. When you just say no you’re asking for the person you’re working with to become annoyed. We know how it feels when someone says no to us. Even if they have a good point we are not happy when someone tells us no. The same is true for your clients, customers, and professional associates.

When you say no there is a chance of burning bridges or damaging relationships. Here is one thing we know; when someone is happy with our service or product they might tell a few people. When they are unhappy, they will tell the world. And, worst of all, they may not tell you anything and “vote with their feet.” It’s fair to say that an important skill is to know how to say no with grace and good will.

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James E. McClain is the author of Successful Career Development: A Game Plan, the book upon which some of our training programs are based. He has over 30 years' experience as a corporate HR executive, small business owner with ongoing experience in career development and as a college instructor. His educational background includes a B.S. and Masters degrees Education and Certification in Financial Planning. Our promise is that "you can pay more for training but you can not buy better training." The mission is to deliver the most effective and cost effective training and development programs.

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Posted in Communication Skills, Leadership, Professional Skills, Selling Skills

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