Every entrepreneur I know can’t find enough hours in a day to do the good things they want, and yet they often find themselves saying yes to new requests. Perhaps because they are optimists by nature, or they just hate to disappoint others, they end up hurting their health, credibility, and effectiveness by not being able to deliver on everything they promise.
In addition to saying yes too often, some entrepreneurs under pressure say no poorly, by attacking the requestor or by avoiding any definitive response. Either of these approaches always makes a difficult situation worse, often leading to guilt or later accommodation.
A successful entrepreneur must be accountable for all commitments and manage expectations to make this possible
So here are some tips I have learned over the years from strong leaders that can help you say no without damaging current business relationships or future opportunities:
1. Establish boundaries and honor them for all to see.
Let your constituents know your priorities and limits. Don’t continually break your own rules about when you are available or what requests are acceptable. Your actions must match your words, so don’t say yes when you mean no.
2. Ask for time to check your calendar.
It’s an acceptable business practice to review your schedule or converse with other principals before committing to an answer. Don’t respond with a quick yes that you can’t deliver, or a quick no that will ruin a relationship. In all cases, it’s important to commit to a date or time for a final yes or no.
3. Give credence to your initial instinct.
Recognize that your brain and your body often register information that is more accurate than an optimistic emotional reaction, or a negative reaction after a long hard day. Take a deep breath, clear your mind of any external distractions, and analyze your gut reaction before providing an answer.
4. Voice both the pros and cons to a trusted cohort.
Speaking the considerations out loud will help you make sure you understand the full implications of either a yes or a no answer. Every yes answer increases your workload, and every no answer may cut off an opportunity you need down the road. Talking it out also buys you time.
5. Explore the possibility of a reciprocal favor.
This will help the requester understand the impact of the request, and potentially reconsider. In other cases, you may actually get back more than you give up. Every yes should be a win-win proposition, just as strategic partnerships can bring huge growth to both businesses, despite the work.
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