How to Master the Art of Saying ‘No’


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As an entrepreneur, you are predisposed to say “yes,” which can open you up to new possibilities and opportunities to help grow your business. That magic word can bring in new contacts, thoughts, opportunities and finances to support you. It makes you a risk-taker — and after all, taking calculated risks is what made you an entrepreneur in the first place.

But let’s be realistic. Saying “yes” often means saying “no” to something else. Agreeing to launch a new product offering might mean you won’t have the capacity to address customer satisfaction across the company. Greenlighting too many projects may spread your attention too thin, eventually leading to exhaustion as you try to juggle everything simultaneously.

Often, we are presented with a false dilemma: yes or no. Is this a great business idea? Is this employee a good fit for the company? Should I raise capital for this venture? Does taking this opportunity prevent others? You need a clearly defined strategy for your company to break this cycle. You need a north star to keep you on course. But you also need to take time to think. One of my mentors taught me this, and it has been one of the most valuable pieces of advice that has stuck with me ever since.

Here are three situations where you should consider pausing, thinking long and hard and sometimes coming up with an answer that doesn’t always feel right in the moment — but will benefit you in the long run.

1. Saying no to external stakeholders

Almost every entrepreneur labors to build a business that matches their vision, not someone else’s. When the vision of external stakeholders (like investors) doesn’t align with where you want to take the company, it might be a good idea to step back. They may not be right for your business despite deep pockets and an eagerness to invest. And these initial differences may lead to conflicts down the road. This might be the time to decline their offer, although I suggest framing your conversations that would still leave the door open for future partnerships.

You will also need to learn to say no to customers. Don’t get me wrong: It is critical to listen to customer feedback, especially when improving your products or services. However, stay true to your north star and stay the course with the products or services offered by your company. If a customer is asking for something that doesn’t fit with your business model or doesn’t align with what you think will drive growth and success, saying no would be a good idea.

Related: Why Saying ‘No’ Can Actually Help Your Business or Startup

2. Saying no to internal stakeholders

As an entrepreneur, I am responsible for leading a team to success. I am looking for the best and the brightest in the business, driven by the same mission as me. At my company, there is no shortage of passion for our mission and plenty of ideas and great enthusiasm around how we can continue to improve and drive towards our mission, which is thrilling and energizing. But sometimes great ideas aren’t right for the moment, and even with the best intentions, they may veer from our strategy.

As leaders, we are responsible for understanding the bigger picture, staying true to our strategic focus and making decisions accordingly. I am continuously learning to balance suggestions, decipher ones to act on and ones to table and say no to ones that may not fit the moment – while encouraging creativity and enthusiasm.

Related: How to Say ‘No’ to Anyone Without Feeling Guilty

3. Saying no to yourself

Running and growing a business is a lot of work. However, we must prioritize work-life balance. I suggest setting a schedule, doing your best to stick to it and learning to control yourself from responding when a professional issue arises during your personal time.

Of course, there is no perfect recipe for work-life balance. I know there will always be a lot of work that needs to be done, but I also recognize the importance of family time. I’ve learned to draw boundaries when needed. I suggest that you don’t lose sight of your family. Take time with them, sign off from work, pick your kids up and have dinner with them. Be present in their lives.

Related: Here’s Why Your Team Needs to Say ‘No’ More Than ‘Yes’

The art of saying no

It is an art to master and say no to projects, opportunities, and people not aligned with your entrepreneurial goals. By learning to say no, you protect your time and energy, encourage your employees to pitch in with tasks they are best suited for, avoid burnout by taking on too much work and responsibilities and maintain healthy relationships with co-workers and clients. Remember to make decisions based on the company’s vision, mission and strategy you set initially. Sometimes, saying no can be just as effective as saying yes.

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