How many times in a day do people approach you or your gatekeeper with a request, suggestion or some other time-consuming appeal? Like many other business leaders, your first inclination may be to say, “OK,” or “Yes, I’ll look into that.” You want to help others or find ways to move a process along with your input.
But the reality is, by rarely or never saying, “No,” you waste a significant amount of your precious (and finite) time. When you “prioritise [another] person’s needs over your own,” says psychotherapist Jonathan Alpert, “you’ll find your productivity will suffer and resentment will mount.”
Saying “no” comes naturally to some, but if it’s an issue that continues to interrupt your daily work pattern—and negatively impacts your company’s efficiency—here are tips to get more comfortable with this answer.
Be polite, but firm. Rather than agreeing to a request, let the other person know what they’re asking for just isn’t possible at this (or, maybe, any other) time.
Don’t make excuses or give the impression you’ll get to it “soon.” Instead, politely but firmly say, “I’m sorry, but my schedule is full and I can’t assist you with this request.” If possible, direct them to someone else who may be able to help.
Provide context for your answer. People who ask for your assistance may think twice the next time if you provide a fuller explanation as to why “no” is now your default answer.
Business leader Kathy Bloomgarden advises CEOs to “take a step back and provide your rationale in the context of the company’s goals and priorities” as well as its relation to the market in general. “Leverage each discussion as an opportunity to strengthen the vision of where the whole team is going” and what’s needed to get there.
Say “no” to ideas that don’t fit your company’s strategic plan. People inside and beyond your company walls are likely bombarding you all the time with “great” ideas about how to improve business and acquire new customers.
Some ideas may be worth pursuing—in which case, the best response is to direct the person towards someone else in the company who’s better positioned to explore the idea further. At the same time, if you foresee that pursuing that idea might take time and resources your business can’t afford, it’s best to say no at the outset (with a brief explanation as to why). It all comes down to whether the next great idea genuinely fits within the parameters of where you see the business going in the coming months and years.
Be prepared to say “no” to a client. Of course, a client is the last person to whom you want to use “no” as an answer. But there may come a time when what they want from your company simply doesn’t fit with your existing resources or strategic objectives. Or they may ask for some sort of “exclusive arrangement” by which you can’t reach out to other prospective clients.
In such cases, it’s usually best to turn down the request in a forthright, respectful manner. Alternatively, notes financial adviser Andrew Schrage, you can “restate the problem” and “focus on the things you are able to do, rather than the ones you aren’t.” This way, it’s possible to say “no” to the client and yet retain their loyalty and gratitude.
Saying “no” doesn’t have to entail negative or unpleasant associations. It can pave the way towards greater efficiency (for the CEO) and motivation to take action on their own (on the part of senior executives and employees). It reinforces the idea that the CEO or business leader must prioritise their time in pursuit of strategic growth.
Want more great ideas on how to manage your time? Gain instant access to a video explaining “The 15 Golden Rules of Time Management.”