How to Say No Like a Leader
Tony Blair said, “The art of leadership is saying no, not saying yes.”
Warren Buffett’s success is attributed to saying no to a thousand deals in order to say yes to a few profitable opportunities. Buffett is credited with saying, “All I have to do is say yes four or five times in my life and I’m a billionaire.” (William Ury on Youtube.)
Danger of yes:
Saying yes – when you should say no – dilutes your leadership and distracts you from what matters.
Saying yes when you should say no is:
- Contemptuous of yourself.
- Scornful of your values.
- Disrespectful of your time.
It’s never fulfilling to live someone else’s life, but that’s what happens when you can’t say no.
Saying yes when you should say no lets others steer your life.
Note: Leaders often need to respond to others and meet pressing needs. I’m not suggesting you shirk responsibility by saying no.
Driven by yes:
A good no is about saying yes to what matters.
Let no flow from yes.
I recently finished, The Power of a Positive No: How to Say No and Still Get to Yes, by William Ury. (Recommended reading.)
William Ury suggests the No Sandwich.
- Yes. I have a very important family commitment this Saturday.
- No. I can’t work this Saturday.
- Yes. I can work late on Monday and Tuesday. I’ll get some colleagues involved. We’ll get the work done.
William Ury quotes:
“Saying no is today’s biggest challenge.”
“Perhaps the biggest obstacle for people in the process of getting to yes is that we don’t know how to say no.”
“True leadership is not so much about saying yes. It’s about saying no.”
“The key to success is saying no to many things and saying yes to what matters most to you.”
What keeps you from saying no?
What suggestions for saying no in a positive way do you have?
During my first one-on-one meeting with my new supervisor last summer, I asked him to be an ally to help protect my time. In this regard, I can concentrate on the mission and goals of my department and not get distracted by excessive meetings that can frquently occur in higher education. This was a respectful and strategic way of saying “No” up front as we started out or employee / employer relationship. He has been a strong advocate ever since.
That’s great, Scott. It’s interesting that when we find a powerful yes, others often help us achieve it. In this case, the powerful yes is giving your time to mission and goals of your department. Very helpful.
Saying “yes” continuously or easily without thought can be a sign of insecurity, low self esteem or fear of being disliked. Being put on the spot with a request can make one say yes hastily without thinking. A safe way to say “no” is to say ” I will think about it”. This gives one time to reflect about their decision as to whether to say “yes” or “no”. Saying” I will think about it” can get one out of a multitude of unnecessary fruitless decisions. Also saying “no” can increase one’s respect.
Thanks Gerry. All us pleasers know exactly what you are talking about. We need to please so we can’t upset people by saying no. In the end it’s so frustrating. Your suggestion to give yourself time makes sense. My problem is I might turn that into a strategy for avoiding stuff…. When I don’t want to say no, I’ll just say let me think about it….then I never follow up.
To add another strategy to help when someone pressures you after you say that you need some time. I’m not sure, but if you need an answer right now, it’s no. Cheers
Thanks for the tip Dan, it makes sense. I will be using the strategy you suggested when I feel pressured :D.
This is something that I have focused on improving over the last 12 months. In the past as a Manager and Leader of small to medium teams I found that too often I was saying yes, when I should have been saying no.
Usually I was doing it not to hurt someone else’s feelings, or because I wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt. But in the end I new it was the wrong decision to make.
Thanks for the great tips
Thanks Dan. The ability to say no and maintain relationships is important for everyone, no matter who they are or what they do. Yet the skill is so rare, especially in workplaces these days. I see so many over worked and burnt out people who are their own worst enemy because they can’t or won’t say no…. sometimes, me included.
I see circumstances dictate some are simple others can be complicated just ask your children.
I make an effort to look at the request on how it helps the family at home or how it helps the workers, and then process the outcomes to be most beneficial for all.
Work it out has helped me the most, go beyond I wants to we need.
“What keeps you from saying no?” – the expression from the receiver of the no whether it be disappointment, frustration or both.
“What suggestions for saying no in a positive way do you have?” – don’t say no instantly, give it some thought, explain reasoning behind the no answer, any answer. It could, can be a great learning methodology.
“What keeps you from saying no?”
People who won’t take no for an answer – seriously. You meet leaders and managers for whom being told “no” is almost a personal affront. They perceive themselves as being too important to be told “no” and will not infrequently remember those who said “no” to them.
“What keeps you from saying no?”
Alliances, often based on particular situations, where upper Administration does not permit the two peers to work out the issue, and instead directs the “Yes” response to one person; or one Team. This can have a chilling effect re saying “No” in the next situation where the same players are involved. I like the suggestion to say, “Let me get back to you.”, and then explain why you may not be the right person at this time. I think it’s important not to say, “I’m busy” as the response will likely be: “Everyone’s busy.”. I think the best response might be “I’m committed to a project with a hard deadline, but will check in when that’s over to see if there’s anything I can help you with.
I agree with Purple Ink . It is a crucial skill to discern when and what to say no to, while also maintaining constructive relationships.
What keeps me from saying “no”? It is my desire to please people. I want to be helpful and I want to serve. But sometimes that means I say yes when I should say no. Thanks for sharing this post.