As an entrepreneur, every day's a hustle. You are trying to build a good team, to develop a good product, to raise funds, to build a brand – there are a thousand things you are trying to do at once. In such a situation, when an opportunity presents itself, irrespective of whether it is one that adds value to the startup or not, it can become difficult to turn it down.
However, this is one of the most damaging mistakes you can make when you start out. By saying yes to every opportunity that comes your way, you may end up trying to do more than you can handle and end up losing focus on your core goal. Building a successful brand or business is all about making the right choices at the right time. And, learning to say no when required is one of the most important skills an entrepreneur can possess.
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This skill has two parts to it – one is knowing when to say no and the second is knowing how to say no. Mastering this skill will help increase your focus and concentration, and also save you a lot of time and unnecessary effort.
When faced with a request that may appear reasonable at first, put it through this test to know if it will be of value to you:
Listen carefully: Make sure that you know exactly what they are asking of you. Remember that it might be important to the person who is asking you, and try to understand why it is so. Knowing how crucial a certain task is for someone helps you get a better picture of the consequences if you were to reject it.
Tally it with your priorities: The person who is seeking help from you might be crucial to your startup’s operations. But it’s not necessary that both of your priorities should overlap. So mentally make a list of your ‘current’ priorities. What are you working towards currently, and does this task align with it or help take it forward? Or will it just be a time suck and make you lose focus from what you really need to be doing? Stick to a goals-first approach while analysing the request.
Weigh the benefits: In the last step, you already ranked the task along with your priorities. If you got no as an answer, then this is the additional step that makes a stronger case for or against refusing. Ask yourself if you stand to benefit in any way from taking up this commitment now. If you answer no to this, then your answer to the request made to you should be the same.
Now that you have decided that you would be better off not taking up the request, do not feel guilty about rejecting it, says bestselling author Adam Grant. “Saying no is freeing up your time to say yes to something that matters more.” So here’s how you can convey it to the person who asked you in a way that it doesn’t burn any bridges:
Don’t take a lot of time: Once you have made the decision, don’t delay breaking the news to the other person. Don’t make them wait for days and then inform them that you are not ready to take up the request. It is better to talk about such things like ripping off a band-aid – keep it quick and short.
Explain your reasons, briefly: When you say no, you can explain why you decided so. Do this only if you are planning to be truthful and not lie or make up excuses. If you don’t have the time, then say that. Say that you don’t want to deliver half-baked work, which is why you rather not take it up. But keep it brief.
Suggest alternatives: Maybe you know someone else who is good at the job at hand and also has the time to get it done well. Refer them to the best person you know who could help them. If time is the issue now, you could even propose doing it for them at a later date as an alternative.
People have learned the art of asking, so you need to learn the art of saying no. Rid yourself of the fallacy that you must say yes to be viewed as a leader. If the request presents a moral dilemma to you, your code of ethics should allow you to refuse, rather than lie to the other party, or agree to something you can’t deliver. Just say no, and smile as you say it.
Before long, you will find that you will get over the baggage and guilt that comes with rejecting requests. Instead of feeling as if you have lost an opportunity, try to think of it as more time and concentration gained to work on what really matters to you.