Free Yourself and the People Around You

Maybe this has happened to you.

A prospective client was enthusiastic about working together. We agreed to speak again in two weeks. Then he sent an email to cancel our scheduled call.

I followed up with a Loom video. A voicemail. A final email — inviting him to say his priorities had changed and he was no longer interested.

All I heard was crickets. (“So much for being the most persuasive person in the room!” said the snarky voice in my head.)

It would have been easy to get all judgmental and call him a jerk. Rather than live in that energy-sucking place, I decided to do some research into why people are afraid to say “no.”

Here’s what I found. (Hint: there’s neuroscience behind this.)

If you’re in a situation where you should say “no” and are struggling, here are three ideas to use as a guideline.

If you’re not interested, say so. Stringing them along with weasel words (like “I have to think about that”) because you don’t want to cause them pain or be the “bad guy” means you’re not acting with integrity. Hearing you’re not the right client for them also frees up the other person to focus on people who do need what they have. (Everyone in sales has been told, “Each time you hear ‘no,’ you’re one step closer to ‘yes.'”) If possible, let them know why their idea wasn’t a good fit — especially if they ask.

Do it in person. We’ve all received kiss-off emails or texts. No matter how well written, the real message is, “I didn’t want to take the time or have the guts to tell you myself, so took the easy way out,” Be willing to face your own discomfort in an effort to recognize someone else’s value.

Know there are kinder ways to say no. Today, I had to tell the owner of a cleaning company I didn’t need his services. When he called, I said, “Thanks so much for following up, Melvin: you’re the only one I called yesterday who did — which says good things about you. In the meantime, I got a shop vac and cleaned up the water in the basement myself. That frees you up to save the lives of the people who are really under water.”

Melvin laughed then replied, “That’s really nice. Thanks!” (He’d probably had lots of conversations with anxious, annoyed and angry people, and needed a good word.)

Yes: our brains are designed to focus on the negative, and this has helped us to survive as a species. But we don’t need to let it drag us and others down. Showing courtesy — even when we say no — is respectful of them and good karma for us.