The “No” Chronicles: Tales from The Front Lines

Recently, I had the pleasure of joining Derek Arden’s Monday Night Live chat show for his fourth-anniversary show.

Derek asked us all to give five ideas in five minutes. Alongside my esteemed colleagues Tim Durkin, Tracy Hooper, and Will Kintish, we embarked on a mission to distil our wisdom into five-minute nuggets. However, in a twist that would make a Hollywood scriptwriter proud, we opted for depth over breadth, each sharing a singular idea adorned with multiple examples.

The Power of No

The always gracious Tracy gave us elegant ways and words to handle those who inappropriately interrupted us.

Will, with a twinkle in his eye, shared his philosophy on the strategic deployment of “no” (grandchildren and dogs being the notable exceptions).

Like many of us, Tim Durkin receives multiple requests for advice, speeches, and contributions of time to local organizations, and he reminded us it’s tempting, almost reflexive, to say “yes.” But here’s the twist—every “yes” is a ticket to a hidden tax, a concept Tim brilliantly dubbed the “Yes Tax.” It’s the fine print that turns a simple nod into a marathon of unintended commitments.

This conversation was a delightful reminder of a principle I’ve championed when I used to teach Time Management: the sacred value of your time.

The Power of “No, and Yes”

In business, our time is as valuable as our contacts. How often have you said “yes” when you really wanted to say “no”? It may have seemed the most efficient, popular, or expedient choice at that moment…yet was often regretted afterward.

You don’t need to make any excuses for refusing a business proposal or social invitation. “No, thank you for asking, but I already have plans.” What you don’t have to explain is that your plans are with yourself.

Fortunately, there’s a way to say “no” and “yes” at the same time: Refuse the request, and offer an alternative that works for you and benefits the petitioner as well.

It has always been part of my overall marketing strategy to be well-known in my community. Business contacts and worthy causes often ask me to volunteer my time. Here’s how I handle it.

An organization asked me to run a luncheon once a month for their volunteers. I said, “No, because I’m frequently out of town. Here’s what I CAN do. Once a year I’ll give a free talk to rev up your volunteers. I’ll be donating a talent that most of your other members don’t have.” I was saying “yes” and “no” at the same time: “no” to the original request and “yes” to supporting the organization. No doubt they did not feel they could ask me for a free speech!

My pal Debbi Steele, an expert in hotel sales, faced a barrage of lunch invitations from those eager to peek behind the curtain of hotel sales. Her solution? A resolute “no” to lunch, with a side of creativity—either join her for a sunrise jog or spend an afternoon in the trenches of her office. The message? “No” doesn’t mean the end; it’s just a different beginning.

The Litmus Test Before “Yes”

Before your “yes” escapes into the wild, pause and ponder:

  • Is this endeavor something that sparks joy, or will it spark dread?
  • What’s in it for me? Will there be personal growth, or just personal grief?
  • Is this a now-or-never opportunity, or will it circle back?
  • Time is currency; how much am I willing to invest?
  • Am I the chosen one because of my unique talents, or because I’m known as the person who can’t say “no”?

If the answers leave you less than thrilled, it’s time to embrace “No, thank you, I already have plans.”

Embrace the “No” to Amplify Your “Yes”

In the grand tapestry of life and work, saying “no” is not just about guarding your time; it’s about making room for the “yeses” that truly matter. It’s about contributing in ways that leverage your unique strengths and passions.

So, the next time you’re cornered by a request that doesn’t light you up, remember: “no” is not just a word; it’s a strategy. Adopt the art of saying “no,” and you’ll find the freedom to say “yes” to what truly counts.

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