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Why 'No' is the Most Important Word You'll Ever Say

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Do you find yourself saying ‘yes’ when you want to say ‘no’? Learning how to say ‘no’ may be one of the most important skills an entrepreneur will need this year.

Here is why it is important. As an entrepreneur, you already have too much on your plate. Piling on extraneous stuff can only prove unproductive. More than that, saying ‘yes’ and being unable to deliver on it will end up in a loss of credibility, friends, and focus – not to speak of the added stress.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair understood this. “The art of leadership is saying no, not saying yes. It is very easy to say yes,” he said.

But saying ‘no’ is easier thought than said. “Often known for overextending and burning out, entrepreneurs must get hold of the fear of “missing out” that keeps them from saying no consistently,” says Denise W Barreto of Relationships Matter Now. Luckily for us, a lot of smart people have thought long and hard about it and come up with great ways to make a polite refusal. Here are the five best stratagems you can adopt, and what better time to start than right now at the beginning of 2014?

1. Try ‘Yes, but …’ : If the chief reason urging you to say ‘yes’ when you really want to say ‘no’ is a fear of hurting the other person, ‘Yes, but …’ might be the gentlest way to decline. Listen to their request, let them know that you like it and assure them that they are not going about it in the wrong way before breaking it to them that you wouldn’t be able to pitch in. An entrepreneur would find himself in such a situation often as he is sure to have other entrepreneurs in his immediate circle who would naturally reach out to him now and then. In such scenarios ‘yes, but …’ could be the best possible ‘no’.

2. Buy time: You don’t always have to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ right away. Instead, buy time. Say: “Let me think about it first and I’ll get back to you.” You could tell the other person when he can expect your reply. If he is keen on your answer, he surely wouldn’t mind waiting to hear it. This will give you time to consider the request, weigh your decision and then respond. This way, you will be certain of your choice, and the other person would receive it well too.

3.Use a referral: Most times, you would not be the best person to help on the particular request that came to you. Spare a moment to think about who would have the necessary resources to help, and then tell the other person: “I’m not the best person to help on this. Why don’t you try so-and-so?” This way you are helping him by pointing him in the right direction. If you can connect them, it is even better as the other person wouldn’t end up on a dead-end.

4. List commitments: You can tell the other person gently that you have far too many commitments at the moment. If you want, you can even share details of what’s on your plate. This will hold off future requests for help as well.

5. If someone is pitching a deal which isn’t what you are looking for, let him know that it doesn’t meet your needs, Celestine Chua says. Say that “this doesn’t meet my needs now but I’ll be sure to keep you in mind.” This will not puncture his enthusiasm as you are not saying that something is wrong with his idea, and you will be open to future opportunities as well. Busy signal: Fire-fighting is almost the de facto mode at startups. So invariably, when someone comes to you with a request for help, you are in the middle of something important. There is nothing wrong in telling the other person that instead of an outright ‘no’. You can always suggest another time convenient for you to reconnect on this request. This will temporarily hold off the request, and most probably, by the time you get back, the other person would have found someone else to do it for him. And if not, you can help him out as you now have time for it.

The simplest way of course is to just say a direct ‘no’. You will be surprised to find it rather well-received – that is as long as you are responding to a reasonable person. Do it a few times and you’d be a pro at it. Saying ‘no’ will free you from unnecessary stress, give you more time to do things that matter to you most and leave you a happier person. Try to remember John C Maxwell’s maxim: “Learn to say ‘no’ to the good so you can say ‘yes’ to the best.”

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