How Saying "No" Saved My Life | Part 3 of 3

Moving Forward : How to Eloquently Say “No”

First, let me give you an example of how my first time actually saying “No” went terribly wrong. It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad thing.

I had a client call me and ask me if I could fix some things on their website. I had recently moved their site to the GoDaddy server and removed myself from the maintenance situation, like I explained in the previous parts of this series. I had also fixed the problems that arose that were related to the move, and done all that I felt was adequate assisting my client with the change.

When they called, the conversation was led out of frustration and anger. The site was not up to par with their expectations, and my client expected me to fix it for no cost, and immediately. Though the problems with the site were not related to the transition and instead related to undone maintenance tasks that our studio was not hired to do, my client believed that we were to blame for the issues.

In addition, some of the problems were not things that I could personally fix, meaning, I was going to have to hire my contractor and pay them to fix things, and be out of pocket whatever that cost was.

When asked if I would (or could) fix the problems, I took a very deep breath, and simply said, “No.”

This conversation, of course, did not end well, and was followed up by a not-so-nice email from my now past client.

I admit, I did not handle the situation as gracefully as I could have.

Looking back, though, I wonder what I could have said to make my client happier. And frankly, I can’t come up with anything. I had realized in the weeks prior during my Saying “No” exercises that I could not sacrifice myself, my team, my own money, my time, my well-being, my emotional state or my business reputation for every single problem that may or may not arise with a client. So, I had said, “No.”

The only other option was to say “Yes,” and then I would have bent over backwards trying to fix things I didn’t actually know how to fix, and spending time, money and resources trying to make the impossible possible. Then, most likely, it would have taken too long and would not have been perfect, and my client would have ended up upset with us anyway, now out more time and money on their end and we would still not have a good relationship.

So it’s a good thing I said “No.” I just should have done it better.

I got better, after this experience, at saying “No.” And though the technique still needs quite a bit of work, I have had to practice it less and less, now that I am getting more comfortable with the concept.

Here are some of my tips thus far at how to eloquently say “No”

Use fluff words. Now, this goes against, really, everything I believe. In fact, I wrote a blog for Yellow not too long ago about how “motivational fluff” actually doesn’t do anything to build character. When writing, we are told to keep things concise and to the point, but fluff words have an important place in conversation. Without them, our being concise instead feels blunt and rude. But fluff words seem to have a purpose in this situation. Fluff words include:

Fortunately
Nonetheless
Rather
Very
Facilitate
Possible
However
“In order to”
“I might add”
“It should be pointed out”
“It is interesting to note”

The “shit sandwich,” as Heidi calls it.

Give good news, then bad news, then good news.

For example, what I should have said: “Fortunately, the good news is that I see the issues you’re speaking about and can understand your frustration completely. It should be pointed out that I am not sure I am the best person to fix these problems. However, I know someone that is great at things like this. His phone number is…”

Keep it short.

Normally, dragging on with the conversation does not lead anywhere good. Though it may seem like if you kept “hashing it out” that you might come to a good place, that’s most likely not going to happen. Someone will still feel taken advantage of, and you’ll be out the time anyway. So instead, keep the conversation short but not brief. Say your peace, listen to their concerns, answer to the best of your ability, and move on.

Lastly, don’t apologize if it isn’t your fault.

Saying “Sorry” usually admits fault. And saying “No” does not mean that you are to blame for anything bad.

Keep in mind, I’m speaking from a business perspective. In your personal relationships, I am a strong advocate for the apology.

Instead, say “Thank you.” Most of the time, you can replace “Sorry” with “Thank you” and it works better. For instance:

Client: “We are really frustrated with the issues that are arising and really think that it is your responsibility to fix them at no cost.”

You: “Thank you for the opportunity to create the site and for letting us know about the issues that arose. We will take all of this advice as strong consideration when working on our projects in the future.

BUT IF IT IS YOUR FAULT, FIX IT. Admitting fault when it is, in fact, your fault is an act of huge self-awareness and is beyond appreciated by EVERYONE. It’s a fine line, knowing when to say “No” and knowing when to just fix the issue. Being transparent throughout the process is imperative. If you have a weakness, or don’t know the answer, or simply can’t muster the courage to take the leap and figure it out (been there, too), just admit as much, and your clients will appreciate the honesty.


So tell me, how is it going, this saying “No” thing, for you all? Have you been able to enact some of your steps? Are you feeling scared or are you feeling confident or are you just like, “Whoa, can’t handle this right now”?

I get it, I really do. It’s a whirlwind, and can be frustrating and enlightening all in the same moment. You will fail a time or two, and that’s ok. Like my dad always says, just take the highest road, not just the higher road. It pays off. Literally.