‘No’ – the most powerful word in the English language. It’s biting, hard, quick and, to many, rude. But if you care about the work you put out, it’s the word that will bring about one the hardest things to do in our industry, craft.
Sirens were beautiful creatures from Greek Mythology who lured sailors to their death. The power of their song was so irresistible it would cause captains to steer their boats into the rocks and drown. We are also seduced daily by ideas that sound great at first but may leave us shipwrecked unless we have the power to say no.
As we approach the dreaded resolution festivities of the end and beginning of the new year, saying no can be the key to elevating the work we produce by allowing us to work on only what we really want to and therefore producing work we are really proud of.
What does ‘yes’ actually mean?
There are various reasons why we say yes to many things we don’t want but these three are generally seen as the most common responses to people who ask us to do things we don’t want to:
Accommodation: We say yes when we want to say no. This usually comes when we value the relationship of the person making the request above the importance of our own interests.
Attack: We say no poorly. This is a result of valuing our own interests above the importance of the relationship. Sometimes we are fearful or resentful of the request and overreact to the person asking.
Avoidance: We say nothing at all. Because we are afraid of offending the other party, we say nothing, hoping the problem will go away. It rarely does.
Being asked to do something was a measure of your ability and status. But some people will ask anybody when they need something, because they know there’s no loss in being told no.
Saying ‘no’ is freedom
Having the confidence and foresight to say no makes you stand out. When you have clear goals it’s easier to say no. Love him or hate him, Steve Jobs said something quite pertinent to this: “I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.”
Of all the good ideas out there, none are better than your own, well-executed ideas. We often say yes instead of no when we doubt ourselves and our intentions. When we say no to requests, we free ourselves to work on the things we value, not what other people think is important. And that’s part of the power and potential of no.
You’ll be one in a million
There will always be great new opportunities. The better you are at what you do, the more people will want you. The more you say no, the more you reinforce your value.
But saying ‘no’ can sometimes mean ‘Not right now.’ And that is valid and should be clearly stated. You have the right to think all offers over and the right to change your mind when the opportunity just feels right. People want to be liked. We don’t want to offend. Rather than saying no, we’d rather string people along and hope they get the message some day. But nothing is more clear than stating our intention. It shows respect, self-worth, and conviction. No is about you and no one else.
The more clear our goals become, the easier and more powerful each no becomes. Saying no takes practice, and it may backfire, but it could be the ultimate way of crafting your goals.