Do You Know How To Say No?

Crazy hill of San Francisco

The builder didn’t know how to say no. 😉

Confession: Ma and Pa Wilner have been known to accuse me of being rigid and unwilling to change my ways/habits. Although I haven’t any problem with owning my peculiarities, idiosyncrasies and/or endearing habits I am not sure that I agree with this one.

Rather I would say I have always understood the power and value of saying no.

That is because in life we consistently find a million different voices clamoring for our attention and a million different requests to do X, Y and Z. However many people don’t like or don’t know how to say no so they find themselves over extended and are constantly racing around like crazy people who are desperately trying to meet their obligations.

It is the sort of thing I try to avoid personally and professionally because it leads to work being done without the sort of quality I want it to have. It is a recipe for mismanaging expectations and for mistakes.

Quality and Quantity

On a professional level when I take on a new project I want to be able to finish it on time and present a final product that I am proud of. I never want to look at my work and hope that no one looks closely because I see lots of loose ends and mistakes.

However we aren’t always given the perfect set of circumstances to work with so it is not unusual to have to adjust on the fly which is why I try to begin each project with a brief discussion about expectations. I want to understand what is expected of me and to be able to share my expectations too.

And that is a big part of why I learned how to say no because sometimes there isn’t enough time to meet the quality standards for the quantity ordered.

If you make your living on a project basis this can present some significant dilemmas because increased production can have a significant impact on revenue. Sell more widgets and make more money, or so the theory goes.

In concept it is a great idea but in execution it doesn’t always work.

Just Say No

I sold online advertising during the dot com heyday. It was a great time for all of us because the money was free flowing and business was booming but it was also where I really learned about the importance of saying no. I remember a conversation with a media buyer who told me they had $80,000 left in the budget they had to spend.

I told them that I didn’t have enough inventory to sell them and that I could only use a part of their budget. I didn’t like or want to say it, my commission was based on the total amount of the sale. $80k was going to pay a lot better than $25k or whatever I had available.

The client screamed at me and insisted that I sell them inventory I didn’t have and I made a mistake of accepting the order.

The net result was a great commission and then months of fighting.


Because we didn’t deliver. It didn’t matter that I told them up front that we couldn’t because I had accepted the order. It was a short term gain that came very close to being a long term loss. I had to beg, fight, plead, scream and jump for hours to get that account back.

The correct response was not yes I’ll take the order.

Sometimes you just say no because it is the right thing to do and it helps you retain power and credibility.

Boundaries Are Important

People don’t like hearing no and customers/clients really dislike it but that shouldn’t stop you from doing it. Boundaries are good. They help manage expectations and ultimately people will respect you for them.

What do you think? Do you have trouble saying no?

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  1. Lori Gosselin May 31, 2013 at 5:48 pm

    I think saying now is a skill we acquire as we grow. I never would have thought I had a problem saying no but lately I’m finding I need that word more and more. So I am learning.
    Your point about boundaries is an important one. We need to know what we’re willing and able to do and define and defend those boundaries.
    How do you teach your children about boundaries. It’s a very important life lesson, isn’t it. Now I’m wondering what/if I taught to my kids about this 😮

    • Josh June 3, 2013 at 10:27 pm

      Hi Lori,

      I talk to the kids about understanding that some times you can’t say no because you don’t like something. It is ok to use it, but you need to do it appropriately. There isn’t always a hard and fast rule either.

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