Thought Leadership BLOG

How to say no

By November 14, 2017 No Comments

Saying “No” may be hard.
Sometimes it’s the right thing to do.
Here’s how to do it well.

The first in a series of insights into “The Astound Way” of doing business

By Ilya Vinogradsky, Founder + EVP Commerce Delivery


Over the past two decades, we’ve faced a lot of interesting challenges, not least of which is finding the best way to manage people’s expectations in a manner that honors our company values, as well as allows them and us to achieve our business goals.

There are times when the answer to a client or a member of staff has to be “No.” Which can feel hard, but may be the only rational response. The opportunity is to do a great job of sharing the reasoning behind this response so that it is seen as not just preventing people from getting what they want, but enabling them to achieve great results.

The art and science of managing relationships depends heavily on how you build and maintain trust in your interactions. We built our company’s reputation on delivering on our promises with clients and partners. And if issues arise, we offer transparency, dialog, and a commitment to resolving the issue as quickly as possible.

We’ve never shied away from tough client projects, which means there will always be times when the answer invariably has to be “No,” because requests may run counter to the end goals that we are trying to jointly achieve. We have seen so much over the many years, that as much as we want to deliver on every request, we understand that some things are not possible or in the best interest of the client.

The key to “The Astound Way” is to help clients understand why the answer is “No” and what needs to be altered to make it into a “Yes.” When we do this effectively, they end up appreciating the honesty, understand the reality of the circumstances, and invariably take the journey with us happy that we were direct, clear and we took the time to communicate. When we can change the dynamic like this, what may have been a “No” now becomes a resounding “Yes.”

The Why

As it happens, we are all very busy and we work in an industry that moves very fast. As I like to put it, it’s never boring in our company. Whenever a new or ongoing client approaches us to help implement their initiatives, we often have the best intentions of saying “Yes.” We have very strong incentives to keep saying “Yes,” to everyone, including aggressive revenue targets that we want to meet, along with internal projects that are important to achieving company objectives, and being helpful to colleagues and friends.

Unfortunately, our resources are limited and demand for our services, time, and attention is very high. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with incoming requests and inadvertently go against our company core values of Integrity, Commitment, and Shared Success when delivering on our responsibilities to clients.

So we have to be careful, thoughtful and smart. Sometimes saying “No” is better than agreeing to something we are unlikely to deliver on successfully.

The When

The timing of when to say “No” is also very important. “No” should not be the first thing you say. On the other hand you shouldn’t say “Yes” and later come back with a “No,” since that damages the trust that you’ve built with the client.

The best way to handle the request is to take a time out, tell the customer (external or internal) that you will review the request and get back to them, within a specified timeline, with your considered opinion on what can be done. Each request should be evaluated by you individually or with your team based on timing and scope of the request, your workload, priorities and ability to renegotiate those priorities.

If you believe that you cannot accommodate your client’s request as it was originally stated, you should say “No.” And here is a way to do it without damaging the relationship or compromising your values.

The How

Whenever you need to tell your client that you can’t accommodate their request, you should always provide information to them about what could be altered in the request so that you can say “Yes.” It may be timing or scope of work or budget. At the very least, you should show a willingness to work on understanding the request better and helping the client adjust it, so that you can still achieve their goals while working within realistic limitations.

Very often you may not know the background of the request, so you may want to ask questions like:

  • What business need is driving this request?
  • Why is the timeline important?
  • Would it be acceptable to fulfill only part of the request within the specified timeline and the rest at a later point?

These questions are important to get answers to, whether the customer is external or internal. If you do a good job, you will likely further build the relationship, and hopefully turn an unequivocal “No” into a conditional “Yes.”

Let us know how saying “No” has worked for you.