Learning to say no

UNTIL recently, I thought of him as my roof repairman. But then, he dumped me. My fascias, it seems, had lost their fascination, my beams were too broad and my gutters too ghastly. Most painful though, was the fact that he did not even return my calls. In fact, I suspect he repeatedly pressed the “busy” button when he recognised my number on his phone.

And his excuse when I finally pinned him up against the muffin counter in Woolworths? “I’m sorry, but it’s stormy season and I am too busy to take on any more work!”

So why did he not simply tell me that to begin with? “I don’t like saying “no” to business,” he replied sheepishly, shuffling and staring at his dusty safety boots.

Saying “no”, it emerges, is a real problem for many entrepreneurs and business owners. They are compelled – by the rampant you-have-got-to-please-everyone-all-the-time syndrome – to say “yes” to every job, contract and opportunity that comes their way. As a result, many are frenetically busy, have very little free time and yet, do not generate as much income as they could.

The fallacy that saying “no” is bad for business arises from the mistaken belief that you will be more successful by always saying “yes”. Many people, says entrepreneurial advisor, Jonathan Phillips, believe that if they always say “yes”, they will make more money, win more contracts, be seen as the nice guy and earn greater respect. That is not necessarily the case.

“If you answer “no”, or at least take some time to think about what is being offered to you, you might end up making more money, have more free time, and reduce your stress levels,” he says. “Always accepting offers, saying “yes” and agreeing, won’t automatically make you more successful. It’s the opposite actually. You need time to reboot and recharge your batteries.”

Phillips recommends that compulsive “yes-ers” try to say “no” sometimes. Contrary to your fears, it will not hurt your business. It may, he says, even assist you to get paid more for the jobs or contracts you undertake, particularly “if you accept the ones you’re genuinely interested in”.

“People will take you more seriously. Don’t sell your soul. Clients are likely to show you more respect if you stand up and be honest, than if you take the job without really wanting to or being able to do it to your best ability.”

As risky and difficult as saying “no” may seem, it is sometimes essential or simply the better option. If you think it is not a good business move or if you do not think that you can cope, say “no”. But be brave and honest from onset. Answer your telephone, return calls, explain your reasons and even show some regret, particularly if you would like to do business with that client again in future.

Anyone know of a good roof repairman?

(This article was originally included in my column entitled If The Hat Fits, which featured in the Real Business supplement of Business Day in July 2007.)

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About Administrator

Freelance writer based in Hout Bay near Cape Town in South Africa.
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