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Learning To Say NO!

July 26, 2011

From E-Myth Worldwide

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By E-Myth Business Coach

It was in the middle of one of our coaching calls when Jack, owner of an IT support company, had a breakthrough. “I just realized how difficult it is for me to say ‘No’.

“That’s big, Jack. What do you think the impact of that is on you and the business?” I asked tenderly, knowing I was leading him into his pain.

“Not good…” he began. It didn’t feel good, but I knew this was going to be a critical conversation for Jack to realize his dreams.

We’d been talking about discrimination and how important it is to choose carefully between competing demands in order"No" can be positive to effectively prioritize. Discrimination is an essential skill and, ironically, saying “No” is one of the more important ways that we get what we want.  When you realize that saying “No” is a key to getting more done and furthering your business’ success, it’s indeed an exciting moment!

But it’s not that easy. “No” may be a powerful word in our language, but it’s also potentially hurtful, which is why it’s often so hard to say. Sometimes, as it is so often said, the truth hurts. Saying “No” to opportunities is painful for many who associate their freedom with unlimited options, but have difficulty with commitment. Saying “No” to requests is painful for leaders who need too much to be liked. What is important to understand is that every “No” is a “Yes to something else. If you do not use “No” enough, you will not exercise your “Yes” enough either.

It was easy in the beginning

In the beginning, an entrepreneur looks for opportunities. In the beginning, the tendency is to say “Yes” to everything!  “Yes” to this customer. “Yes” to this employee. “Yes” to this idea, process, system, or marketing plan. “Yes” to this product or service mix. As you gain business momentum and maturity, you begin to see that good opportunities are those that enhance your company’s strengths and reinforce your compelling customer value proposition. This is the domain of the Manager. Opportunities that don’t do that should be met with a polite but firm, “NO, thank you.”

Too many entrepreneurs never learn to say “No” because they are not balanced by an inner Manager. They continue to say “Yes” to everything, which results in effectively saying “No” to everything. They try to do too much for too many, diluting their focus, their company’s identity, and often the quality of their product or service – not to mention their own ability to get things done.  Having the discipline to consider a narrowing strategic focus is critical and requires that you turn down certain opportunities.

“Where else do you have difficulty saying “No?”  This was clearly a theme in Jack’s business, and addressing it could move mountains for him. And it was going to hurt

“It’s all suddenly clear,” he lamented. “I need to say “No” when one of my employees wants me to take back the task I’ve delegated.  I need to say “No” to customers that aren’t a fit for my business. I need to say “No” to hiring an employee who isn’t the right fit. I need to say NO to the unimportant stuff, so I can truly focus on my goals.”

“What’s been in the way of saying ‘No?'” I asked.

“‘No’ has always been such a source of pain for me. I’ve felt afraid of being unpopular or worried I might be missing out on something. But I see now that never saying ‘No’ has actually caused the very thing I’ve been afraid of. I haven’t been doing my job as a leader.”

“Ouch,” I said. “I can feel how painful that is to look at, and I so appreciate the courage you have to face that. The more you have the courage to say ‘No,’ the better you’ll be to say ‘Yes’ to the things that truly matter. And saying ‘Yes’ to those things which you’ll wholeheartedly follow through on is the path to making your dreams come true, as difficult as that sometimes is.”

Although we may intuitively understand the enormous value in saying “No,” we often don’t exercise it because of other concerns swirling in our head.  In a world with more information, more options and more demands for productivity than ever before, the stakes are incredibly high. To stay in the right bandwidth of flow and efficiency without overwhelm, you have to say “No” to many things.  But unconsciously, automatically, we tend to say “Yes” to way too much. “Yes” just seems to feel better.  “No” invites conflict.  “Yes” makes easy connections.  Or so it seems.  But “Yes” also invites conflict – conflict with competing ideas and strategies, conflict in balancing time for life and time for work, conflict in managing competing accountabilities, and conflict in our efforts to define and enforce our brand.  Ultimately, it creates a conflict within yourself. And so the practice of discrimination is the practice of saying “Yes” to your dreams.

The positive power of the negative

For Jack, it was the beginning of a whole new phase of his journey. He began saying “No” to interruptions from staff when he was in the middle of his designated planning periods — and saw his time management improve. He said “No” to an entire new line of business that, upon further consideration, made little sense for his brand focus.  He said “No” to mowing his lawn and hired it out, freeing him to hold more of his bigger responsibilities.

Two months later Jack had great things to report. “I’m saying ‘No’ to much more now – and the outcome has been our meeting deadlines, the staff trusts me more, and our brand is more focused. I never knew one little word could prove to be so important.”

Experiencing Jack’s transformation made my heart smile. It’s amazing how these small, seemingly simple, shifts, when diligently applied and practiced, make huge differences. This was “The business is a reflection of you” applied in daily practice. I knew Jack and I would be having follow-up conversations about the various ways he still needed the support to say “No,” but we were in an entirely new place since Jack identified this system-wide theme and how it was holding back his business. We were one huge step closer to his Strategic Objective.

Image: zirconicusso /

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