Please and No Thank You

Recently I had the opportunity to post my thoughts on saying “No” nicely on Michelle Villalobos’ blog. It got me thinking about this subject. So many times entrepreneurs get themselves into sticky situations because they just felt uncomfortable saying no. It may be due to the politeness factor or the likability factor. Whichever it is, the truth is that being unable to say “no” can be detrimental to your business.

When it comes to the politeness factor, I believe it is misleading to think that saying “yes” is always the polite thing to do. Frankly, it isn’t–especially when someone has asked you to do something you don’t want to do, don’t have time to do, or that doesn’t fit with your business plan. That’s not polite; it’s silly.

No Thank You

If you think about it, you are really lying to the other person. You’ve said “yes” to something that you wanted to say “no” to. Can you think back to a time when this happened? Did you end up being upset with yourself, the other person, the task, the inconvenience? I know I have. The problem here is that you create a situation where you are operating under the wrong circumstances. Now you are getting in your own way. That’s not exactly conducive to growing your business, is it?

If we visit the likability factor for a minute, we quickly find that saying “yes” when we’d rather say “no” doesn’t work here, either. We want to be liked so we say “yes” – to everyone! But then we don’t like ourselves or our situation. We end up being stressed and unhappy. But we have no one to blame but ourselves — because we put ourselves in this position. I submit it doesn’t make people like us more. Once again, we are not really being truthful with them, and that’s not likable.

So, what do we do? Well, I believe in two things – clarity and honesty. These two things can keep us centered and moving down the right path for our business and our relationships.

  1. Clarity – having a very clear picture of where you are going and how you are going to get there. When you can see your destination clearly, you can develop the roadmap for getting there.
  2. Honesty – being honest with yourself and others will keep you on your path.

When we combine these two elements, we find that once we have clarity, it is easier to be honest. Now we can say “no” with a reason that isn’t “I just don’t want to do that.’”We can say, “I’m sorry but I can’t do that right now. I have a clear and specific path that I’m on with my business and I’ve promised myself that I won’t deviate from it.”

Now who could argue with that? It’s honest; it’s polite; it’s sincere. And I submit it shows real professionalism and direction. You may even find other people modeling that behavior! This process actually improves your likability. Now you’ve turned something that once felt like a negative into a positive. Nice job!


Diane Helbig Diane Helbig is a Professional Coach and the president of Seize This Day. Diane is a Contributing Editor on COSE Mindspring, a resource website for small business owners, as well as a member of the Top Sales World Experts Panel at Top Sales World.

13 Reactions
  1. Thanks, Diane.

    Although it’s difficult to say no to people, I’ve found it really powerful to do so.

    I know that for me, if I keep saying yes, I tend to lose focus on my personal and professional goals.

    Good post.

    The Franchise King

  2. Yeah, more people need to embrace the power of ‘no’ – their business will benefit.

  3. Hi Diane,

    Saying No and then justifying why you’re doing gives the other an opportunity to second guess your decision and, possibly, make you look less than helpful.

    I try to avoid this and move the conversation in another direction.

    And the fastest way to do this is

  4. I believe that another reason we often say ‘yes’ is because we’re being asked to help someone else and it is a natural human desire to help others. However, this often puts you in a situation where you have to choose between good, better & best. You will have to say ‘no’ to a good thing (fulfilling that request from an acquaintance) in order to say ‘yes’ to the best things (building your business).

  5. Saying “yes” doesn’t mean you are helping the person who asked. It can mean you are acquiescing, not the same thing at all. I think the term is “tough love.” Saying “no” can be done politely, even constructively, by offering other options. No, that won’t work for everyone but doing something you don’t think is right leads to strained relations and resentment. It’s a lose-lose situation. I was once told that the best way to deal with those requests that make your stomach knot is to say, “I can’t tell you right now. Let me get back to you.” That gives you time to figure out what you really want to do and say rather than succumbing to the pressure of the “ask.”

  6. Interesting. I like the idea of giving yourself a chance to really think about the ask – what it entails, why you don’t want to do it (the knot in the stomach) and what it will get in the way of. Then you can communicate more effectively – respond instead of react.

    I don’t think that giving the person your reason for saying no is a platform for them to question your motives. Having said that, there are those people who will look for the negative; who won’t hear the truth. There is nothing you can do about those people. I do think that we have an obligation to ourselves to be sure we are being clear about our decision making. How the other person interprets that is up to them.

  7. I also agree with Ivan’s point of view. in some situations to move the conversation in another direction is a better idea rather than say “yes” or “no”.

    Thanks, Diane. “Being honest with yourself and others will keep you on your path” is a universal truth.

  8. Companies who hope for the greatest gains must de-prioritize as aggressively as they prioritize. They must choose the most impactful/profitable projects at the expense of other projects.

  9. Hi Diane

    Saying no to me is paramount in ensuring continued success in your business. For smaller businesses seeking revenue, the ability to say “no” can be fatal and often they can take on work that they are simply not going to be able to deliver on which will cost them more in the longer term.

    In projects, this can be overcome with a proper scoping document. For businesses, the ability to say “no” can come on the back of a properly defined services or product offering from that company. i.e.. this is what we do…. and this is what we don’t do!

    Thanks for sharing

  10. Barney, you are speaking my language when you talk about a proper scoping document! I consistently council my clients and others to be sure they have clearly and specifically communicated the scope of work so there is no misunderstanding down the road. It also serves to keep the service provide within some guidelines so they don’t end up unraveling their progress with extra work – extra unpaid work!

  11. When you focus on setting your client up for success, saying NO is easy. If you’re not equipped to deliver, for whatever reason, you’re truly looking out for the client’s best interest if you decline to take on certain business. It’s as easy as “Mr. Client, I really appreciate you presenting me with this opportunity, and that you thought of my company first. Because my first objective is to insure you’re successful, I have to be honest and say…
    –This opportunity is not in our sweet spot
    –We can not meet your timeline
    –We don’t currently have the experts to support
    –Etc, Etc, Etc.
    …But, I’d be happy to connect you with another company that is a better fit for this project.”

    This works and clients will have a huge amount of respect for your honesty and integrity. In addition, client’s are also more likely to return to you later with other opportunities or referred you to other companies.

    Customer’s love honesty!

  12. nicely said!