How to say no in business without the guilt

As a business coach, one of the issues I hear a lot from people is their fear of saying no.

Make no bones about it, saying no in business sucks. How to say no can be one of the hardest lessons to learn, especially when it is something we didn’t learn when we were young.

We worry about the opportunities we’ll miss out on. We loathe saying no to any opportunities in case it is the last one we’ll receive. Other times, we doubt our reasons for declining. We wonder if we are somehow missing the point of something fantastic others can see that we don’t. Or are concerned we may be tarred as ‘difficult’ if we stand our ground.

No sucks to say in any context, but in the business world, it can give you sleepless nights a-plenty.

Yet learning the art of saying no and having professional boundaries also saves you from potential monster clients, terrible jobs and working way too hard for a meagre return. Saying no is a vital skill.

I’ll coach you on how to say no without the blush or the guilt.

Check your empathy

I’m not saying you have to become some hard-hearted or selfish creature. Not at all.

But I will say as a coach I notice a huge difference in the people who know how to use empathy well instead of being drawn into sympathy mode. Or worse still, preempt other people’s emotions and reactions through managing how others are meant to think, feel and act.

It’s much easier to say no to something when you are not letting your emotions get the better of you.

Most of the time, the reason we can’t say no in business without feeling squeamish is that we’ve begun to emotionally invest. Even if that investment is investment in scarcity myths, pride or ego. Whether that’s in the benefits for you or the story you’ve been told, it is immaterial.

Their lack of money, time and planning is not your problem.

Harsh? Not really. Decision making should always come from a well-thought out perspective. And if that means creating some distance emotionally between what we should do in a situation and what we feel obliged to do, that’s what we need to do.

As a coach, I see a lot of women especially who think it’s their role to edit the story, minimise the impact and leave the people out of the decision making process. This isn’t far. You have to give people the chance to respond for themselves. Give them autonomy over their emotions and they may surprise you.

Use your logic instead of your emotions when you make decisions. And don’t anticipate people’s reactions to the point of not giving them the ability to share an honest one.

Maintain perspective

It’s great when someone comes up and asks us for a favour. It makes us feel valued and special. It does not however make us the centre of the universe. None of us are indispensable- especially not in the business world.

It’s complicated when we address the situations in business because saying no in business means saying no to being special and getting paid.

That doesn’t mean you should take on things that you don’t want to do. In fact, you hurt people by saying yes to things you don’t want to do. Usually because you create extra work through reluctance. I’ve had to deal with this before and it’s never fun.

You aren’t the person’s only viable option, even if that’s what is said to persuade you into doing their bidding. There are always other potential options to investigate. And any solid business manager knows this.

Take the flattery out of the situation. Remember they’ll probably find another way to do what they need to without you.

Never imagine you are the be all and end all. You are not. They know this, and so should you.

Coach yourself to realise that no helps the other person as much as it helps you.

Don’t fear repercussions

Whether you’re a people pleaser or a solo operator who is just trying to get by, we can often fear the repercussions of what will happen if we say no. However, it’s important to remember the repercussions associated with saying yes, too.

Saying yes to the wrong situation can cost you more time and money than saying no ever will. Take for example the high maintenance customer who takes more time, demands more attention and makes you feel bad about what you do. Or the project you aren’t really suited to that requires you to invest additional time through working slower. Not to mention that horrible feeling of being out of depth.

Declining a client or project might get an arrogant customer’s nose out of joint, but it also means you won’t have to invest time and energy into dealing with an unsuitable endeavour.

When you work with me as your coach, we can work on ways to decline these opportunities with the minimum of stress, too.

No helps us play to our strengths instead of our weaknesses.

coach yourself

Sometimes, we have to coach ourselves out of bad habits, watermarks and quirks we’ve been given.

How we make use of no and how we feel about no generally is one of these areas.

Conditioning from childhood, bad relationships and terrible bosses can all teach us to accept all situations as inevitable. Someone somewhere has trained you to respond that way so they get what they want.

Don’t let them get away with that.

Stop with the “good girl syndrome”. The reality is being a perpetual people pleaser doesn’t get you extra love or admiration. It gets you less respect and more crap tasks.

Look for the things that foster a sense of self-worth and allow yourself the pride in your accomplishments you need.

Value yourself! It starts becoming a lot easier to say no in business when you do.

Stop justifying the yes

Stop justifying the case for the yes. If your gut is clenched, your face is screwing up like you’ve smelled something off and the whole situation fills you with dread, that is enough.

Honestly, you don’t have to empathise or build scenarios as to why you should say yes. You should go with your initial reaction. Your subconscious is probably telling you something for a reason.

If you know you should say no, say it.

Know your limits

We work better when we’re rested and we’re eating well. Our brains function better when we get time off. We all know this, yet working long hours, pushing unreasonable projects to life and sacrificing our time away from work is becoming normalised. In fact, it’s praised and seen as a badge of honour.

That’s why learning the art of saying no has to be a part of our working lives.

At work you’re lumped with extra work because you are valuable. That doesn’t mean you should miss out on your kids, your friends and your life for some company profit.

Share your experience

Community is probably the most over-used word of the year. But that doesn’t mean that community is any less important.

Coming together to discover that the challenges you face are shared by others can help you gain courage. Fortifying yourself with the language and experiences of others is empowering. It’s hard to say what you need in a given situation, but creating touch points where you can draw on the knowledge of others, have someone who isn’t directly involved (and therefore less inclined emotionally to react) is incredibly useful.

In the Freelance Jungle, we regularly coach each other on how to say no to difficult and unsuitable situations. It really helps. Finding this kind of support mechanism can help you, too.

Asking others how to say no to difficult situations can yield great advice and a positive result.

Your journey towards not being lumped with things that negatively impact your life and your stress levels begins with putting yourself first. It begins with learning to say no in business situations.

The truth is, learning how to say no doesn’t have to be that difficult. No is only tricky if you doubt yourself. Learn to trust your judgement. And back yourself. Because there are plenty of people who want you to say yes for their own benefit. You need to work out which yes or no is in yours.

Need a hand getting your head around the benefits of saying no in business? Book me for some coaching now.

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