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The Respect to Say "No."

No. Such a small word, yet it scares so many people. Whether it’s intimidated the most seasoned executive or youngest professional, good intentions are unfortunately causing all of us more work and frustration.

I have a request that may sound odd: please respect me enough to tell me “no.”

I recently had coffee with a friend who is in a sales-oriented field like I am. He was talking about a customer who was offered a product that he agreed to buy, but was seemingly uncomfortable making the final commitment to purchase. My friend being the ethical professional that he is, told him it was alright to say “no” and saw the relief wash over him as they talked. Had he not done him this favor, the customer may have bought something he truly couldn’t afford and then either pulled his future business from my friend or would have had to return later to get his money back. While this conversation didn’t result in a sale, the customer's response was a win for everyone.

As someone who has to raise millions of dollars and train other people to ask for money, it’s funny to see how the biggest fear is being told “no.” I warn new fundraisers that this will likely never happen. After raising $7 million dollars, I can count on one hand the times someone ever told me to my face they weren't interested. The many other deals I failed to close withered and died after unreturned emails, phone calls, and time wasted.

Instead of hearing "no," you’ll have someone ask you to send them more information, or give an excuse that their manager is out of the office and you should try again. That means more follow-up, more persistence, more contacts, and more attention that pulls time away from other valuable prospects. My job as a professional is to know when those tactics are really "no" in disguise, although that can be a tough call to make. I actually appreciate when someone simply tells me they’re not interested so I don’t keep them on my to-do list. I’ll respect when someone tells me “no” and not try to talk them out of it, but otherwise my persistent side will keep coming back until I have to camp out on their front lawn to have a word with them.

If we all became a little bit braver and less worried about hurting someone’s feelings, imagine how much less we could be chasing our tails. What are you truly saying when you give someone false hope and ask them to work harder for a “yes” you don’t plan on giving? I think most of us would like to be respected enough for the other person to trust we’d respond appropriately to “no” rather than making the decision for us by withholding their true feelings.

So if I ever come knocking on your door, please know I appreciate the chance to make my case but that I also welcome your honesty, even if it doesn’t result in getting what I hoped for. Let’s all agree to work toward that attitude and make life easier on all of us!

Like this topic? Here are some great articles that dive into the issue on a deeper level:

Just Say “No”

Real Selling Starts When the Customer Says "No"

Do You Have the Courage to Be Honest?

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