Chandresh Shah

How to say NO as a Leader?

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Here are some common places where you learn how to say NO.

There are times in life and dealing with your staff when you just have to say no. Perhaps it’s a suggestion about a strategy, execution of certain tactics, product and product features, marketing, human resources … and so on.

Or perhaps it’s about a feature that you have no intention of building, resources that you can’t dedicate, or promises that you know you will not keep. But this monosyllabic word is probably the hardest one to utter. It closes all doors and destroys all possibilities. And nobody likes to be the bearer of bad news, especially when these come from your most trusted and loyal employees that are looking out for the company as well as your clients.

So how do you say no?

According to a blog I read, here’s what the blogger suggests and I agree with it.

You cannot say ‘no’ to the people you love, not often. That’s the secret. And then when you do, it has to sound like a ‘yes’. Or you have to make them say ‘no.’ You have to take time and trouble.”

Employees will believe that as long as they think in the best interest of the company as well as clients, it will be done. Things are not that simple. Sometimes you cannot do what they are suggesting.

Most companies now sell products, but also provide professional services. It is important therefore to let clients know and keep on making them aware that you offer them. Equally important is to let clients know that the product(s) are standard off the self and not ‘work for hire’.

The problem is, sales! Sales folks will often say yes to anything when asked by prospective clients of the product’s ability to solve their problems.

Other departments that deal with the NO problem.


Prospects ask if you have certain features in what you are selling. Most sales people will go down the list of features and find out if they have the features that the prospect is asking for.

Sales stars, instead, solve a problem. Before even thinking about saying No, they will try to find out the reason behind the request for that feature. Ask Why – 5 times if you have to – to get to the bottom of the request so that you can help solve a problem and therefore turning a No into a Yes.

Customer Support

It is very similar to what I outlined above for sales. But here you have a slight advantage. The client is already using your products. They may be asking for a feature request but may not be able to articulate the reason behind that request. So, help them (and yourselves) solve the problem instead of focusing on features. If your company is offering professional services, you have an added advantage.

Back to Company Leaders

Dig in, dive in, engage employees, and understand the root cause and reasons. Instead of a flat NO, put yourselves in their shoes, and identify the issues that need to be solved. Perhaps you have a better solution, or workaround that fit within your boundaries and framework.

Copying from the Blog I was referring to (Click here to read that blog):

  • Things you CAN do + Stuff you SHOULD be doing: If you CAN do something and that’s the direction your customer base really believes you should be working on it, that’s a good reason to pump the gas on this one. These are under the radar issues that would crop up as you scale. It isn’t a customer problem currently, but it will be eventually.
  • Things you CAN do + Stuff customers WANT you to do: The Route to Professional Services. These aren’t things in your real road-map, but could offer as Professional Services. Take this route ONLY if you have the bandwidth and resources. Otherwise be nice, but say No.
  • Things your customers WANT + Stuff you really SHOULD be doing:  Road-maps to Nevada. Your current customers want it, and that is what your industry dictates you should be doing. Therefore grow, hire and provide the service or get ready with the best apology speech in the history of mankind.
  • Things customers WANT + you SHOULD + CAN do : The Commission’s Overlap of Possibility. This is your absolute high priority items. Never ever ever say NO here, even if it means shaving off a few dollars.