I Say No to the Request, not the Person (the “No” series)

I say no

So I finally did it…I started a “I say no” series. If you've just gotten here, you may not know that I wrote a post that tells people that “I say no a lot.” But as soon as I wrote it, I got requests from friends to turn it into a series.

I delayed it but slowly followed up with two more “no” posts – How I say No in email, and No you can't have your custom site for $300 in 2 days.

Kicking off the “I Say No” series

Why is it so critical to make sure you know how to say no? Because you can't truly say yes if you have no time left. And you won't have any time left if you've said yes to a bunch of poor choices.

But we're all scared of saying no. Hey, I want to be liked too. Just not as much as I want to be valued. And that's where the rub is. If I want others to value me, I need to stay in my sweet spot. And if I want to stay in my sweet spot, I have to learn to say no.

So today we'll start with the first lesson on saying no (other than practicing saying the word several times, which you can do on your own).

Reject the Request, not the Person

One time (not at band camp), I had a pair of young out-of-town guys knock on the door. They were in a program where they were learning valuable business skills by going door to door reciting this fact and selling magazines.

The problem was that they weren't any good at the pitch, and they weren't closing on the magazine sales. So it was going to be a clear no from me.

But that didn't mean I couldn't make the experience worthwhile for them. So I invited them in.

They told me all about their program and what they were learning. They showed me their ties (which made them feel very business-like). And they shared what they hoped to learn by the summer's end. It was fantastic and it was heart-felt and true.

So how do you reject the request without rejecting the person?

Well in this case, I did the following. First I gave them a very basic lesson in presenting (because they had struggled to look me in the eyes while reciting their monotone pitch).

Then I went up to my closet and found 10 ties – good ones. I stopped wearing ties when I stopped raising venture money, so I felt good giving it to these door-to-door teen salesmen.

  • They were thrilled. They had more than they'd hoped for.
    And never sold a thing.
    And when they walked out the door, they never felt rejected.

The Lesson

Now I'm not saying you have to give away all your ties. But I am saying that every request is an opportunity for an exchange. And even if someone is asking for one thing, you can offer them something else.

You can be pleasant and friendly, professional and level-headed, and still say no.

Someone is asking you for something (your acceptance – and maybe your cash). You can say no and still give them something (respect, time, a donation, or a piece of advice). In that way, you're respecting the person while rejecting the offer.

Reject the Offer, not the Person.