Beyond the Build

Customer Relationships

Saying “No” and “Yes” With Equal Conviction

In business, most of the time it’s easier to say “yes.” We wish to serve, to solve problems and keep our customers happy. But “yes” isn’t always the right answer.

The trail is pretty narrow, and saying “yes” can get you off the path just as quickly as saying “no.”  Personally, I try to say “yes” most of the time, but experience has taught me that sometimes, saying “no” can lead to success as well, but along a different route.

Just this week I received communications from one of our customer relationships, asking a question about the total cost of a project. The catch? He wanted the answers within 48 hours. That was yesterday. Today we talked and I told him that honestly I couldn’t carve out the hours to give his question proper evaluation. I had hoped to be able to find a rabbit in the hat, but right now I don’t even know where the hats are located. Tomorrow, in the the peace and quiet of Saturday, I will have time.

In our industry, sometimes the easiest way for a service provider to create a poor reputation or worse is not having the courage to say “no” for the right reasons, as in the case of  “No, we do not have that capacity right now.” As much as we would like to take on the extra work or fulfill the client request, it’s a narrow trail we walk as team members and as a company.

With new business, we are all conditioned to say “yes,” even to counterproductive requests. Sometimes saying “no” will make more money for all parties. This is definitely a skill set learned from experience. 

Being honest about capacity or resources serves everyone and at times requires courage. We all try to be miracle workers, the go-to people who suffer from “yes-icide” at times. That self-sabotaging reflex is because we don’t want to let people down, or perhaps we fear the judgment of repercussions real and imagined. Ask yourself:

  • Is my “yes” aligned with achieving the long-term goal for the customer or partner in the room, or is it a quick fix? 
  • What’s the worst that can happen if I say “yes “or if I say “no?”

I think when one develops a reputation for having the guts to say what you think, you’ll be a person others respect, a leader.

Merrill Stewart Jr.

Merrill Stewart is Founder and CEO of The Stewart/Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham.