As A Professional, In Addition To “Yes,” How Do You Say “No?”

In the game of chess, for each move made and piece utilized, there is a reason which could be revealed either immediately or a few moves later.

Whether the piece is used in that instant to make a fatal blow to the opposing side or for setting the stage for another piece to make the blow in a coming step, its action has meaning and purpose.

Much in the same way, there are also instances where moves or steps are foregone on the chess board for similar reasons. They are given up either for a better strategy or to be part of a strategy in a later move. There can be numerous reasons why, but the reasoning is always likely revealed, again, a few steps later.

Regardless of whether there is an action or inaction, due to the nature of the game, there should always be a setup and an end-game.

“Souring a relationship takes a tool out of your arsenal which you could have used at a later time.”

Much in the same vein, leadership is just as much about what you don’t do as what you do do. It isn’t only about what you show people but what you don’t show people. This is because the impression left upon people can either be made through either action or inaction, much in the same way as on the chessboard.

In fact, one of the more important aspects in a decision process is being clear about why a path is chosen or not. So you can’t only explain the actions that were taken to which you said “yes” but you should also explain why you said “no” to certain moves, requests, or strategies.

Related Post: Regardless of Title, Respect the Person

This is an important lesson when it comes to relationships both inside and outside of your organization.

If you’re saying “no” to something within your company, it is important to explain why so your colleagues at any level understand why their efforts weren’t utilized or some were utilized over the efforts of others. This previous post on Acknowledging and Understanding covered the power of proper acknowledgement within an organization whereas the acknowledgement addressed in this post is about outside partnerships with someone not working with us day-to-day.

If you’re saying “no” to a collaboration outside of your immediate workplace and/or workplace partnerships, it is important to also explain why the choice was made to not go in that requested direction.

“As a leader you need to make sure all your chess pieces are ready to go for the long-run, which might include those which you’re not quite ready to use yet.”

Explaining why a decision is a “no” outlines why a decision is not the best for the leader’s strategy at the time. It allows the proposer to reassess either their idea or the presentation of their idea in order to improve upon it for subsequent opportunities.

If not explaining why a “no” decision was made by covering how it might not play into the strategy, at the very least it should be explained for courtesy’s sake to demonstrate respect and consideration of investment by the other parties.

Explaining a “no” also conveys respect as opposed to a curt or brief response, which conveys a dismissive tone of the other party.

Overall, for relationship maintenance purposes, explaining that “no” allows the decider to be perceived as both thorough in their business and considerate of the time and effort that went into a proposal or request. This type of courtesy conveys consideration of investment, showing that a leader considers all aspects and details of proposals and can outline a thorough understanding of the issues at hand and make a reasonable argument as to why the proposal might not align with their or the organization’s work.

“As with anything else, it’s not what you say but how you say it that makes the most impact.”

Anything less than consideration for these reasons would seem dismissive, causing the proposing party to either write-down the leader as ineffective, disrespectful or inconsiderate for future work together or make it know to others that the party does not know how to carry out a respectful transaction.

And don’t just go by a person’s title or position to determine how much information you’ll provide or they deserve regarding your decision. Don’t underestimate anyone like that. This respect is a pillar of professionalism. It demonstrates strong integrity, honesty, and character.

Aside from it being the right thing to do, similar to the chess game, there is strategy here as well. As a professional of any kind, you need to make sure all your chess pieces (possible resources) are ready to go for the long-run, which might include those which you’re not quite ready to use yet (the current “no” decision).

In the game of chess, the focus of the two parties is on the board until the final checkmate. Eventually, each party will understand why the other player made or didn’t make certain moves. Their attention is focused until the end.

“You can’t only explain the actions that were taken to which you said “yes” but you should also explain why you said “no” to certain moves, requests, or strategies.”

Unfortunately, in these outside/external working relationships, this doesn’t happen. Those outside parties might not be with you, seeing your decisions in play to the end, in order to understand your logic. That’s why it’s important to explain, in the moment, why something is not working or going to proceed. It provides clarification now, which they might not see play out later. That moment in which we have their attention is why we need to explain the intent.

This is not to say that for every decision made not to proceed with a proposal an elaborate dissertation needs to be written, presented, and defended as to why the decision is made. It is more about the thoughtful response to the request or proposal in order to maintain a productive and connected working relationship going forward.

Also, it is not to say that this should be done in every instance. It only means to say it should be considered. There might be times where the situation does warrant a shorter response, depending on circumstances at hand. There might even be instances where someone might know that there will be no further possibility of a working relationship with that outside party and so there is no need to maintain any kind of courtesy. It happens. But do your due diligence, focus your consideration, and only use the advice in this post when appropriate.

“One of the more important aspects in selecting a course of action is to make known why either a path was chosen or not.”

In most other instances, even if it does not seem as though two parties might work together in the future, one never knows. We should never make that assumption. We should always err on the side of caution. Regardless of whether we think we know the future or not, we should proceed as if everyone we work with is a customer.

Related Post: Everyone’s A Customer

Never address a matter or a relationship as if it is ending when you’re not ready in the moment. Souring a relationship takes a tool out of your arsenal which you may be able to use at a later time to build a value-exchanging partnership. It may be the case that you might not know you need that relationship later, but it’s better to err on the side of caution and respect that relationship so as to maintain an open line of communication for when the time may be right. The bridge between the two parties may not be used for trading services at this time, but, regardless, maintain that bridge for possible later use, don’t burn it.

This is a free tool – to be able to explain to someone why something is not going to work. As with anything else, it’s not what you say but how you say it that makes the most impact.

Err on the side of caution and address the interaction as if there is always more to do.

So…What About You?

  • How do you convey “no” to outside partners?
  • Do you address them in such a manner which takes into consideration a possible future working relationship?
  • Do you take into account how your reputation may be impacted in that other person’s circle due to your actions or inactions regarding the “no?”

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