How to say ‘no’ with confidence

By 12 October 2023 No Comments

As a Practice Manager you are typically juggling many tasks and there are many demands on your time. In order to thrive in this role a critical skill to have is the ability to say ‘no’. Yet saying ‘no’ can be one of the most difficult skills to master in business. Whether it’s declining a request from a colleague, a boss, or a client, we often feel guilty, rude, or unprofessional when we say ‘no’. However, saying ‘yes’ to everything can also have negative consequences, such as overcommitting, underdelivering, or compromising your values. So, how can you say ‘no’ in business without damaging your relationships or reputation?

Here are some tips on how to say ‘no’ with confidence in a professional and respectful way.

  1. Don’t hesitate to say ‘no’. If the request is beyond your reach and you have to say ‘no’, respond to the person as quickly as possible. It doesn’t get any easier to say ‘no’ if you wait.
  2. Be clear and concise. The ‘no’ must be clear and unequivocal. Don’t try to be nice and soften the blow e.g. “I’d really like to help you, but…”. Don’t get sucked into a negotiation. A clear, polite, firm ‘no’ is less likely to be misunderstood and you can both move on with your priorities.
  3. Give a reason why you are declining the request, if you feel it is appropriate, but again, don’t get sucked into a negotiation. You don’t have to justify why you are saying ‘no’, but an explanation does help your future relationship.
  4. Again, if it is appropriate thank them for thinking of you/your business with their request.
  5. If possible, you can suggest alternatives, solutions, or ways for the other person to achieve their goals, depending on the situation.
  6. With a clear and concise ‘no’ it is easier to hold your ground. Saying ‘no’ when necessary, is neither rude nor selfish but a way to respect your boundaries and priorities. Reframing the ‘no’ as a ‘yes’ to your priorities, your business, and yourself can be empowering. Don’t let the other person pressure you or make you feel bad for saying ‘no’. Be firm and confident in your decision and don’t apologise for it.

Should you be saying ‘no’ more often?

There are small ‘no’s and big ‘NO’s. Please don’t limit yourself to the small ‘no’s.

Reflect on your business and you. Does the 80/20 rule, the pareto principle apply? Do 80% of your results come from 20% of your effort? Does 20% of your business income come from 80% of your clients? Do 20% of your efforts produce 80% of your profits? Do 20% of your staff create 80% of your business. It might surprise you. If this is the case, you have a lot of opportunities to say ‘no’. In fact, 80%. So, fire up your Pareto Brain and start saying ‘no’.😊

Brian Tracy’s Rule of Three follows a similar vein. Brian’s Rule of Three suggests that if you make a list of everything you do in a week or a month, which may be twenty or thirty activities, for an average business person, you’ll find that only three of those activities account for 90% of the value of all the work you do. So, start saying ‘no’ to those tasks that don’t add value.

It’s not just small businesses that can go astray. Steve Jobs at Apple’s World Wide Developers Conference in 1997, six months after his comeback to Apple where he rang in the changes, really hit the nail on the head when he said: “And, you know, the hardest thing is, when you think about focusing, right? You think, well, focusing is saying ‘yes’? No. Focusing is about saying ‘no’. And you’ve got to say ‘no’, ‘no’, ‘no’…….And the result of that focus is going to be some really great products where the total is much greater than the sum of the parts”.

Sometimes like Steve you need to be brave and follow your vision for the business.

Reflect on your business and you, be brave, and say ‘no’, ‘no’, ‘no’ to ensure that you focus on the things that truly matter!

“Focusing is about saying no” – Steve Jobs (WWDC 1997)

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