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Have You Harnessed the Power of NO?

I work a lot with people who have difficulty with the biggest word in the English language: No.

It forms the basis of their troubles, from being told no by their customers, coworkers or bosses. It limits their abilities, they tell me, to succeed, to make their own decisions, and to grow.

However, I am fluent in the language of No, and I overcame it. So needless to say, while I understand what they’re feeling, I don’t buy the excuse that they simply can’t move up because of No. It simply is a crutch that holds people to a belief that they shouldn’t try because they will fail for any of a host of reasons. It might keep you “safe,” but certainly not successful.

So, let’s talk about No in the shining light of day, expose what it looks like and make it less powerful than people allow it to be. And then let’s really turn it on it’s head so that it ends up working FOR you rather than against you.

People are often so used to working in a culture of No in the workplace that they forget it’s there. It becomes an unspoken barrier to moving up, sharing ideas or even making suggestions for improvements that could help your company. Some circles call it learned helplessness, where you have been met with so much opposition that even when the answer could be yes, you don’t even pose the question.

If you lead people, it’s your job to change the environment. Create an environment where people feel welcome to present their new ideas. If you’ve spent a long time in No-where, then you may need to invite questions, ideas and feedback at every opportunity.

“So, Jack - what are your thoughts on this project?”

“Emily, I believe you have some ideas for improving relationships with our clients - would you please tell us how you’ve succeeded with your customers.”

As an employee who’s been met with a lot of No, you also have power. Of course, you could simply find a different company with a better culture but if you want to change your company culture without a job search, you should prepare. Especially if you are in sales, your new idea can be the result of wanting to fill a customer’s needs, or answer the demands of a changing market. No employer wants to lose money, and losing customers to competitors that are willing to change and meet their needs might get their attention — and get their approval to new ideas like yours.

When your best efforts fail, you deserve the right to an answer of why your idea is being rejected. Done respectfully, it can lead you to learn more about the company’s strategies and perhaps provide you with an opportunity to help them problem solve. It also gives you the opportunity to show your talents and loyalty in helping the company succeed. (“OK, so maybe this idea isn’t right at this time because we need to address a number of issues with this project. How can I help resolve them?”)

This approach also makes it looks less about you and your ideas, and more about your creativity and leadership in supporting your team.

So, don’t be stuck with No. Somewhere others are dealing with the same obstacles you are, and winning. It’s just how they manage No.

Turning the situation around 180 degrees, how can YOU use No to your own advantage? And how can you use it so that it doesn’t have that effect of making someone else feel unheard or insignificant?

First of all, let’s agree we all get the same 24 hours in a day. No is a powerful tool that will help us make the most of every one of those hours. It must be used carefully so as not to be a negative experience and possibly damage professional and personal relationships, of course. If you are managing your time by keeping a calendar (a HUGE time management tool) that includes tasks and appointments, a thoughtful No keeps your priorities in front of you.

So if you have an important sales call you’ve been planning on for weeks, a last minute invite to play golf with another client (who is also important) should be declined, with the explantation of why. The client at your meeting is the priority, and explaining that you are dedicated to keeping your promise for that client reflects well on you. The client who’d like you to join them on the links will probably think you are a person of integrity, and if the tables were turned, you would provided them with the same courtesy and respect.

No is not an end. No is an answer that requires you to approach things differently. No is a short detour. No is a door closing perhaps, but one that tells you that your time is best spent opening other doors. Learn from No, but don’t be stopped by it. It’s the things you can’t control that shouldn’t control your life, but what you can control will lead you to success.