A positive NO

A positive NO is not ‘Mission impossible”

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There’s been a recurring theme with clients in the past few days about an apparent incapacity or difficulty in saying ‘no’ to impossible requests, too-tight agendas or differences of opinion. This is not just endemic to Latin America. More and more it strikes people all over the world, focused 24-7 with trying to please everyone.  It would seem that the two-letter word is so dreadful that we would rather accept the impossible and have to come up with the most intricate excuses just so we don’t have to actually say ‘no’. Negatives are uncomfortable. We worry about being disliked, seeming stubborn or even losing the business/client/partner/friend (the list goes on).

I confess that a ‘no’ is not only possible, it’s healthy. Limits, even as children, are good for us. They are necessary and beneficial to the individual and the relationship – whether it’s professional, romantic, familial, etc. Limits give us clear parameters and allow us a starting point and some security to move and try new things. Having said that, and understanding that saying ‘no’ is uncomfortable for many of us, I’d like to share with you that it is indeed possible to give a ‘positive no’.

An example of a common occurrence for me as an account director at an advertising agency in Mexico:

“Ale, I need the changes to the TV, radio and print campaign for tomorrow.”

  • Answer 1: “Yes, I’ll get right on it.” This answer implies destroying personal and professional limits that you’ll be hard-put to reestablish. The request is impossible to do in 24 hours. You open the possibility of doing shoddy work, making mistakes or simply not delivering in the limited timeframe.
  • Answer 2: “No. I can’t do it. I’m sorry.” This option shows stubbornness and a lack of willingness to solve the problem. Feelings of injustice that this kind of request was made at all can push us to want to answer like this, but we should avoid it all costs.
  • Answer 3: “I understand your need for a quick turnover with this, but what you’re asking for simply can’t be done in 24 hours. If you agree, what I can deliver are changes for the TV campaign in 24 hours, and in 48 hours we’ll have changes in radio and press pieces. I need to coordinate a lot of people on the team for this and I don’t want to let you down.”

This last option doesn’t just open the door for a richer dialogue in finding solutions; it also shows a transparency and collaboration as key elements of this professional relationship.

Again, I’m not asking you to start shouting “NO” left, right and center and deal with the consequences. Instead, be aware of each situation and explain it as completely as you can. A ‘positive no’ offers an explanation of why you have to say ‘no’ and gives alternatives to get to the best solution.

Believe me, the honesty that a well thought out ‘no’ implies will be appreciated. And you’ll be surprised at the results and the strengthened relationships that this type of dialogue brings.

Alejandra Gómez