The Gift of Saying No

Sometimes saying no is a benefit to both parties.

A LinkedIn post lamenting requests for cheap work called to mind what many of us forget, especially in a bad economy, or else during a long dry spell of romance. We forget what we value, we forget our standards, we forget what we’re worth. Or maybe we forgot to consider those things in the first place.

A tight economy or even naysayers can conspire to make us operate on a scarcity model, one that dictates that we take what comes our way—in case nothing else does. We feel we have to say yes to work that we can’t afford to say yes to but believe we can’t afford not to. We have to put food on the table, but many of us panic or at least become cynical long before we really face starvation.

You have time to breathe and ask yourself some questions.

What are my strengths?

What do I offer that has real value?

What is that worth?

Is this client or project in line with my values and goals?

Will this challenge me in good ways?

A good exercise is to recall the bumpy roads you’ve been down that you swore you wouldn’t revisit. Perhaps it was the low-budget project you allowed yourself to get talked into, with the promise of exposure and more work. Recall how you felt after that, and what it confirmed about the type of work and client relationships you wanted.

If you find yourself being resentful at the assumptions people make, like a website should cost $500, then you’ve positioned yourself to be a contender for that work. If you didn’t see yourself as a contender, there would be no reason to even flinch as such a request. By giving ourselves time to evaluate before reacting (even if our reaction is only internal), we deepen our commitment to what we value.

Having then shifted that focus, we may even arrive at a solution that we hadn’t been able to consider at the beginning. Maybe that solution is passing on a name of a junior designer, offering up a simple service they can afford, or helping the client understand the work involved…all from an objective distance.

In this Zen Habits post, the author gives some tips for saying yes more slowly, for those who can’t stomach saying no. The person who posted the question on LinkedIn, as a result of repeated requests for low-cost work, lowered her rates. Prevailing logic says now is the best time to raise them. David C. Baker’s website Recourses has great position papers related to this, like Avoiding Marketing, Saying “No,” and Rethinking Rates.

We get locked into ways of thinking—that clients want cheap websites, for example. When instead, the real answer lies in what we draw to us. And why. This requires puzzling through issues we want to avoid—Why am I afraid to say no? If I find better projects, what if I fail? What do I owe to myself and my business, and what do I owe to others? And how can I make it work so both of us benefit?

This is why saying no sometimes works better for both parties. Saying yes for the wrong reasons can lead to working with a disengaged spirit, which serves neither party well. And more importantly, each time it happens, it’s a missed opportunity to learn something about ourselves.

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