Unconventional Advice for Succeeding in Business
“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.” —Warren Buffet
If you want to become successful in business and be seen as someone who can be trusted to get important work done well, you must master the art of saying “no” with grace and clarity.
“Yes-people” don’t make it to the top, nor do they earn other’s respect. Instead, they burn out from working on other people’s version of urgent, but not vital, work. This leaves them too little time for the most important work. When you say “yes” to work and meetings that aren’t the best use of your time, your schedule becomes chaotic and others see you as harried. Managers who don’t learn this skill earn reputations for being micromanagers, non-strategic and delving too much into the details.
Why is it so hard to make strategic decisions about how we spend our time and say “no” without the residue of guilt? Blame it on your brain.
How the brain leads you to overcommit
Your brain’s sole goal is keeping you safe, and it does that by moving you away from pain and toward pleasure. The three “pains” that cause you to overcommit and say yes to the wrong things include:
- Social pain– The sense of being left out (also known as fomo, or fear of missing out
- Status pain– The sense that others see you as less capable and less successful than others (or the standard we’ve set for ourselves)
- Prioritization pain– No task saps the brain of energy like prioritizing your day. The act is strategically difficult and filled with mental and emotional land mines: Whom will we disappoint? What will be left undone? What painful task (that we’ve been avoiding) will we need to actually commit to?
Use this simple six-step process to overcome the brain’s hard wiring.
Step 1: Pause
It’s easier to say no first, than to undo a yes. Buy yourself time by taking a deep breath. If you need more time, you can say, “I need to check my calendar. I’ll get back to you by the end of today.”
“A ‘No’ uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a ‘Yes’ merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble.” —Mahatma Gandhi
Step 2: Decline with clarity
It’s tempting to water-down our no, but doing so can result in miscommunication about expectations — and can eventually damage your reputation and relationship. Here are some examples of clear declines:
- “I’m not available”
- “I’m not able”
- “I wish I could but I’m already committed”
Step 3: Share a credible reason
You’re likely to have a number of reasons to decline. Some may include:
- You don’t have time
- You’ll be out town
- The last time you helped them, they took all the credit
While these may be true, they will not help you improve your relationship and reputation.
Try one of these more specific explanations:
“I would like to, but I’m unable because…”
- My team is down two people and we’re already working nights and weekends.
- I have another commitment at the same time that I can’t move.
- This isn’t my area of expertise and I’m afraid that I’d deliver you a sub-par product.
Share an honest explanation that you think is most credible to them. For example, if you can’t make a meeting because you have to take your sick dog to the vet, choose how much detail you share depending on whether the recipient is a dog lover. If you don’t know, you could simply say, “I have a personal commitment,” or “I have a doctor’s appointment.” Both are true, but less specific.
Step 4: Make an offer
Only make an offer if you have one and if it serves both people’s needs. Do not make an offer simply to make yourself feel better.
Your offer could sound like:
- “I know of a good resource; would you like her information?”
- “Would you like me to ask a few people if they’re available?”
Step 5: Express (genuine) gratitude
Only express thanks if you genuinely feel it. You could say, “I’m honored that you thought to ask me.”
Bonus Step 6: Drop the guilt
When you feel guilt, ask yourself, “Have I harmed someone or acted in conflict with my values?” If yes, apologize, and do better. If not, let it go.
Declining requests is about much more than time management; it’s about life management. People need you — not to say yes to everything thrown at you, but to be your most brilliant version of you.
This guest post was authored by Denise R. Green
Denise R. Green is a speaker, writer, and executive coach committed to helping people go from burned-out (or blah) to brilliant. After a successful career with Oracle Corporation and Charles Schwab, Denise founded Brilliance Inc., a coaching corporation whose purpose is to unleash human potential. For more than a decade, she and her team have helped thousands of people feel less stressed, and have more ease and fulfillment in all areas of their lives. Her new book, Work-Life Brilliance: Tools to Break Stress and Create the Life & Health You Crave (Brilliance Publishing, April 2017) is about reigniting one’s internal spark. Learn more and access the free e-guide, “Break Stress Now,” at BrillianceInc.com.