the sky floor

Stop Fearing the Word No

April 9, 2021

If you are like me, you grew up fearing “no.” And it makes sense; it feels like that’s the end – it’s over. But I was wrong. 

No isn’t the end most of the time. It contains priceless information you wouldn’t get otherwise. It is like the lines in a coloring book, telling you where the borders are so you can create a complete picture. 

In Conversation

When you get a no in a conversation, you are learning about who you are talking with. When you get a no in a pitch, you discover more about the values of who you are pitching than all positive feedback. When you get a no, you are learning how to define value with purpose with that person. 

A no is a chance to ask for more – “tell me more” is my favorite open-ended follow-up. Even if it is a final no in your current conversation, it is information for the future. No doesn’t mean failure. 

I would go as far as to say, look for a no. Try to solicit a no out of your conversation. Not wantonly, but like you are a reporter on the scene of a missing person’s case trying to find out every pertinent detail. 

Don’t be afraid to ask dumb questions to get there. Judgment is critical – you don’t want to annoy the person you are talking with – but sometimes, when we identify the answer is no and ask anyway, we learn way more than we would from our baseline assumption. 

For a Project

No on your proposal also gives you information. Again, ask for particulars and learn from the answers. In the end, we all want projects and new work, but I am a firm believer that one “no” will be someone else’s “yes.” In this way, when a potential client turns you down, it is ripe with fruit. You learn more about your audience and yourself. But more importantly, you are now available for the next project.

I can’t tell you how many times we have been turned down or turned down work to have the next project have better pay and be a better fit. It is always unforeseen at the time but almost happens without fail. 

Stop fearing the word no. Seek it out in the interest of all the information available. 

P.S. – When you say no, you are also giving this gift back to others. If they don’t ask a follow-up question like “tell me more,” think about offering details to help them understand your no. It will benefit both parties in the long term. 

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