Saying No – How to Do It and Why You Have To

Saying ‘no’ to a client’s request has always been a dilemma for project managers. However, saying ‘yes’ to every request of the client can also prove disastrous. No organization has unlimited resourcesto allow them to indulge in absurd client requests. Even when there is no lack of tools and resources, the project manager needs to consider several other factors before accepting a request. There are several reasons due to which a project manager should learn the art of saying ‘no’. In this article, we will discuss the importance of saying ‘no’ and how to refuse any unreasonable request.

What Makes Saying ‘No’ the Only Option

There is a misconception that a client centric project manager should grant every request of the customer. Turning down unrealistic requests may actually make the client happier in the long run, it can just take a little bit of effort to show them what the picture may look like if you grant their every request. However, saying a direct ‘no’ should be the last option for you, and to be honest, a direct ‘no’ should really only be used in times of emergency or when all other forms of negotiation are unsuccessful. Before you use that option, you should try to negotiate with your clients a mutually agreeable solution.

In his book,The Zen Approach to Project Management, author George Pitagorsky stated that negotiating with a superior or a client needs courage and competency. The client may not initially like what you say. However, as a project manager, your job is to point out the unrealistic expectations in the request, the impacts and consequences and discuss whether the benefit really outweighs the cost. If you are good atcommunicating, chances are that you will find a unanimous solution without having to say ‘no’ to the client’s request.

At times, saying ‘no’ may be the only option. This is usually the case where the client is obstinate about his request. After all, you should not allow the client to get unreasonable advantage at the cost of the company’s resources, or depending on the project it may even impact the safety and lives of people. Furthermore, by saying ‘no’ to a request, you can save a lot of the company’s resources which may be used for completing other more important and value add assignments.  It is not the best situation to be in, but if you are dealing with such an unreasonable client that the two of you are unable to negotiate a reasonable outcome, you need to consider if it is worth having that client relationship at all.

What is the Best Way to Say ‘No’

Many people try to avoid saying ‘no’ considering the unpleasant consequences. Saying ‘no’ can start a blame game, and even worse it can affect your business relationships. Thus, knowing how to say ‘no’ nicely is important. Following are the top three tips on how to say ‘no’ to a request:

Don’t say No

Sounds strange I know given this article is about saying ‘no’, but an outright no or even the use of the word no can really spoil the mood.  It can create an instant negative atmosphere, so the best thing to do is essentially use any other wording or approach other than saying ‘no’.

Be prepared

This is your number one rule, be prepared. If you go into a negotiation hoping that your opinion is enough, you are doing a couple of things.  You are hoping that the opposition has the ability to accept anyone else’s opinion but their own, you are also assuming you understand all the impacts and can adequately explain them yourself plus you are potentially extending the negotiation process and delaying things further.  You know the saying, fail to plan, plan to fail.  This applies here also, if you don’t prepare you will be fighting an uphill battle.  Get the facts!

Come to the point quickly

A long introduction before saying telling someone they can’t have exactly what they asked for may sound like an excuse to the listeners. It is better to get to the point as quickly as possible and let them know where you stand before explaining your opinion and rationale. When you state your opinion clearly followed by a brief explanation to that, listeners will be more engaged. Moreover, this creates an opportunity to start a candid discussion over the issue, which may lead you closer to finding a unanimous solution to the problem.

What you want your point to really be is that you have analyzed the request and would like to present your analysis in an effort to come to a solution that benefits everyone.  It shows you have proof to back up your argument, you aren’t just airing your opinion and that you want to work together.

Avoid blaming

When negotiating a request, you should avoid blaming anybody for the circumstance. Blaming leads to confrontation, which does no good to the problem-solving mission. Even when you know somebody is responsible for the particular problem, it is better to control the temptation of blaming. Instead, you should include appropriate reasoning.

Talk about resource costing and impact

In most cases, saying ‘yes’ to unreasonable requests causes the company to drain a lot of resource cost. You should make a detailed estimation of these costs and illustrate it to stakeholders. This is a great way to point out the illogicality of a request to the requestors. Chances are that they will recognize the pitfalls and say ‘no’ on their own.

Stay calm

A negotiation has the potential to hit some buttons, it can involve a variety of personalities and depending on how stubborn or unreasonable a person can be it can really get you fired up. Don’t let it, keep reminding yourself that you know the facts, you know the impacts and you have done the best you can.

Considering the aforementioned tips helps to get better results when it comes to saying ‘no’ to any unreasonable request.


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