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If you find it difficult to say no, you’re not alone. Many of us find it hard to put our foot down. So much of what we’re told about success revolves around the idea of saying yes: to new ideas, new innovations, and new opportunities. But becoming a yes man (or woman) can put a real strain on your productivity, creativity, and happiness.
In fact, research by the University of California in San Francisco shows the more difficulty people have saying no, the more likely they are to experience stress, burnout, and even ultimately depression. Plenty of studies have linked stress and fatigue to reduced productivity and engagement on the job.
You need to learn when to say no — and how to say it — to ensure you don’t burn any bridges in your career. Here are 10 entrepreneurs sharing how they say no and keep themselves sane:
1. Explain Why
I find people are always impressed with honesty. Time is finite, especially as an entrepreneur. When I have to say no, I do my best to explain what my focus is and why I can’t say yes. I usually find people respect the honesty and wish me the best.
– Adam Lieb, Duxter
2. Exude Grace and Gratitude
People get it. You’re busy, it’s not a good fit and the timing isn’t right. But what makes a big difference is how you treat people. If you can be gracious and show your gratitude for the opportunities or potential client/hire’s time, people will respect your “no” so much more.
– Nathalie Lussier, Nathalie Lussier Media Inc.
3. Never Apologize
“No” should never be accompanied by “I’m so sorry, but I can’t because…” When it’s necessary to say “no” to a request (whether it’s from a client, an employee, etc.), simply explain your reasoning and leave things open for a potential “yes” down the line. Never use apology language — it assigns blame.
– Brittany Hodak, ZinePak
4. Do It Constructively
Having heard my fair share of “no” before, I believe that even though it can sometimes sting, eventually the most beneficial ones are given in an honest and constructive manner. Let me know how I went wrong and how I can improve. Only by learning can you hope to get a “yes” the next time.
– Nicolas Gremion, Free-eBooks.net
5. Be Direct and Concise
A no-response should be short, direct and to the point. It is not meant to open up a dialogue. Let the person know you are declining the opportunity, and wish him or her good luck with the project. The more details you provide in your response, the more ammunition the individual will have to forge a rebuttal argument as to why you should say yes. – Anthony Saladino, Kitchen Cabinet Kings
6. Say No Quickly
Requests from clients, pitches or potential hires that are not right for you will thwart your ambition.
Say no quickly and politely and move on.
– Kuty Shalev, Clevertech
7. Say It Carefully
Besides being polite in saying no, try to communicate what you mean by “no.” Do you mean “not now” or “never”? This will often help those you’re saying no to have a better grasp on why you’re saying it in the first place. You will both move on quicker that way.
– Sarah Schupp, UniversityParent
8. Tell Them It’s Not a Good Fit
Business is built on win-win relationships. Relationships that are built on people who don’t have the same expectations, values or intent will result in everyone losing. It’s incredibly important that, much like a marriage, there is a good fit between the two parties. If there’s not, then you’ll do more damage by working with them than by just walking away. It’s just not a good fit, and that’s OK. – Adam Callinan, BottleKeeper
9. Accompany It With a ‘But’
As my business grows so do the number of requests hitting my inbox every day. One of my 2014 promises to myself is to say no more often. When I do have to say it, there’s usually a “but.” “No, but I know another company I can refer you to that might want to take this on.” “No, but I’m happy to recommend another speaker.” “No, I can’t meet for coffee, but I have a blog post on that topic.” – Natalie MacNeil, She Takes on the World
10. Make It So You Don’t Have to Say ‘No’
Saying no requires you to pay attention in the first place, and this requires time and resources that could be better spent saying yes. This is why we have a very specific understanding of not just who our ideal customers/employees are, but more importantly, who they aren’t. By knowing what we don’t want, we can better filter out those people before we even have to say “no.” – Liam Martin, Staff.com
About Ilya Pozin:
Founder of Open Me and Ciplex. Columnist for Inc, Forbes & LinkedIn. Gadget lover, investor, mentor, husband, father, and ’30 Under 30′ entrepreneur. Follow Ilya below to stay up-to-date with his articles and updates!
Photo: marc falardeau/Flickr