When we think of saying no it usually pertains to just our personal life. Yet, the art of saying no must be mastered in all aspects of our lives, especially in our business relationships. Whether it’s saying no to initial offers when buying or selling a company, navigating complex vendor relations, or managing customer expectations, the need to understand when and how to say no has never been greater. As a successful entrepreneur I faced the same challenges. Should we expand into another state? Do we hire another person? Is it time to part ways with a customer?

While every business situation is unique, basic principles of saying no can be universally applied. In today’s “yes” driven culture one would think the key to success is just saying yes. Not so, Warren Buffet debunks that theory with his famous quote “The difference between successful people and really successful people, is that really successful people say no to almost everything”. I agree wholeheartedly! So when should we say no? Here’s just a few tips from my upcoming book.

First, when emotions win you lose. You must take emotions out of the decision-making process. This is easier said than done. We are emotional creatures by nature. But if your decisions are based on emotions they are often wrong. For example, most people bought stocks at the peak or sold them at the low based on emotions. The emotional rush of recreational shopping that often leads to buyers remorse. Next time you think about saying yes ask yourself, are my emotions influencing this decision?

“The difference between successful people and really successful people, is that really successful people say no to almost everything” Warren Buffet

Next, data is everything. You’ve heard knowledge is power.. well it’s true. I’m amazed at how many businesses both large and small that simply don’t utilize the power of their data. How could you possibly say yes to anything before analyzing your data. Today’s advanced technology offers businesses the ability to crunch massive amounts of data yielding specific customer information that can transform your company overnight. Back in the 90’s during one of these “crunching sessions” we determined that nearly 15% of our national client base was unprofitable. It was a shock to us! We never realized such a large percentage of customers became unprofitable over time. Guess we should have never said yes to them. We fixed it by saying no.

Once you’ve mastered when you should say no, how do you actually say no? Here are some tips:

First, how you actually say no is extremely important. Author Maya Angelou said it the best, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” The tone of your voice alone can determine the outcome when saying no. If you never want to hear from the other party again, to hell with tone. But for most of us we understand that our paths may cross again some day. With that in mind focus on your tone. Most business people understand decisions that are based on “for the good of the business” reasons.

Finally, if you can offer another solution for your customer or vendor when saying no, do so. When deciding on severing ties with nearly 10% of our client base back in the 90’s we made it a point to find other solutions for those customers. That took work and creativity on our part, but it was the right thing to do and our customers appreciated the effort.

Always remember, you’ll only find your yes by saying no!
Jack Fedder

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