By Ursula Jorch
Saying no can be really difficult, especially for women. Women are trained to be agreeable, and culturally, the pressure is still heavy to ‘just get along’. Plus, we’re wired for cooperation. So saying no can feel downright wrong, even as a leader.
Women are by no means the only ones who have trouble saying no. Men sometimes do too. Saying no may disappoint someone, or upset one of your colleagues who has a strongly held view.
Why is saying no so important? Every ‘No’ gives you room to say ‘Yes!’ to something important. Something that adds to the impact that you can have.
Jennifer saw an opportunity to increase profits with a new offering. The trouble was, it wasn’t in alignment with the impact we had defined for her company, and the subsequent strategy we’d developed. But it was so tempting, this seemingly low-hanging fruit, that she went for it.
Several months later, customers were confused because the offering wasn’t in keeping with the company’s mission, and team members were trying to explain the diversion to themselves and to customers and suppliers. Jennifer ended up abandoning the offering after some money made, but ultimately time, energy, resources, credibility, and even trust lost.
Saying yes to opportunities when they’re not aligned with your impact purpose has real consequences. Think about your strategy as a river, a river powered by impact. Traveling down the river is implementation, which leads to profit and your desired impact. On this stream of implementation, storms happen. Trees are downed and they can dam the river. If you have trouble saying no, you let the obstacles stand, and the stream is diverted. Now you’re no longer in the river of impact. You’re in a diminished stream that is off course. And it’s now harder to get back to the river because you have to admit you went off course, and it takes a lot more work than if you had just done the work of clearing the downed trees (saying no) to begin with. Meanwhile, you’ve left some of your customers in the river and they’ve moved on.
The consequences are real. So how do you stop saying yes when you want to say no?
- When you have clarity about the impact you want to have, you can say no with clarity and decisiveness. A clear impact purpose and an aligned strategy sets up the boundaries. They give you guidance when you’re faced with a decision about whether to say yes or no. They give you the strength and support to say no when it’s needed to stay aligned. When you say yes to your impact, you can say to no to everything else, everything that won’t help you get there.
- As a leader, you’re constantly modeling behavior. When others see you say no to things that don’t lead to your desired impact, it gives them tacit permission to do the same. Everybody on your team stays more on track. You take your leadership role seriously, so you know the effect that a good role model has. You want to follow through to help support and serve your people.
- Give yourself time. It’s harder to say no when making decisions on the fly. You may just want to move on to the next thing, and it can feel easier to just say yes to get it over with. Besides, it won’t take long, right? Every diversion adds up, though, and soon you have a full-fledged dam on your hands. So take the time. Defer the decision to give yourself a chance to reorient and refocus on your impact purpose. Will this ‘yes’ help me and my company have the impact we want to have? If not, it’s a clear no.
- When you have a bigger yes, it’s easier to say no. Have a bigger goal, a greater purpose. If you want to run a marathon, it’s easier to say no to fat-heavy meals and social drinking. It’s easier to say yes to good sleep habits and healthy eating. Your bigger yes, your impact purpose, when held in clear focus will help you say no.
With your bigger yes in mind, saying no becomes less personal and more in service to something greater than you or the other person. Focus on your impact, and all your no’s will effectively move you closer to your vision of impact.
Ursula Jorch is a speaker, business coach and consultant who helps entrepreneurs grow a successful business that makes a difference in the world. A 21-year successful entrepreneur herself, Ursula helps you define the difference you want to make in the world and develop strategy and marketing so you have ever-expanding impact.
Find Ursula on her podcast, Work Alchemy: The Impact Interviews where she interviews impactful entrepreneurs and leaders like Seth Godin and Marianne Williamson, and at WorkAlchemy.com for free resources for you and your business.