Yes is typically seen as a positive and no as a negative. That seems obvious. “Do you want some cookies?” Yes = cookies! No = sadness.
But what if I told you no could be just as much a positive as yes? That both have equal import in your life and business? I’ll start with yes.
The Value of Yes
If you’ve read Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes, you have a good idea where I’m going with this.
We need to say yes to all kinds of things. We need to say yes to opportunities, to trying new things, pushing our comfort zone, to personal and business growth.
A new client, asking for something just outside your service list can be scary. Especially for women, who traditionally underestimate their own capabilities, saying no feels safe.
And it is safe. But it is also stagnant. You can say, “Yes, but…” or “Yes, and…” but at some point you’ll need to say yes if you want to move forward.
The Value of No
If saying yes to things is so crucial, why does no matter?
I’m going to reference Year of Yes again. In her book, Rhimes describes the moment she realizes she’s already been saying yes to something that’s holding her back – her unhealthy habits. To make that change, she needs to start saying no to something she’s enjoyed for a long time.
In the business world, there are clients and employers who will take advantage of you. There are coworkers who will talk over you (again, especially if you are female), business propositions that don’t feel quite right, and collaborations where you end up doing all the work.
These are all negatives and a no is needed to prevent them from being a drag on your business. In the English language, a double negative is a positive and that philosophy applies here. (Side note: did you know that not all languages use double negatives? You could say, “He’s never not working” but in Spanish it would just mean he’s not working.)
Tangent aside, you could even say that no equals yes in some situations. No to being exploited is yes to standing up for yourself. BUT even if you phrase it as a yes for yourself, “no” is the word you’ll need to use for the person who’s trying to take advantage of you.
You also need to be able to say to some good things. The Accidental Creative refers to this as pruning. While an activity may, in and of itself, be a positive thing, too many will overwhelm you. By struggling to keep up with too many projects, you’ll stress yourself out and none of the projects will grow as much as they could have had you cut some out.
How to Know the Difference
This is the tricky part.
If a potential client comes to you with a project outside your skill set, do you say no to avoid unnecessary stress and a poor fit? Do you say yes to stretch your comfort zone and grow your skills?
There’s no easy answer. I think it will be different for every business owner, every client, and every project in this scenario.
But there are a few different factors you can consider to help you make this decision:
How Far Removed From Your Skillset is It?
If it has nothing to do with the services you provide, it’s probably not a good fit. If it’s a skill you’ve been meaning to pick up anyway, this might be a good time to make that leap. Feel free to let the client know your reservations or offer a discount for your learning curve, in which case it’s a “yes, but…”
How Much is On Your Plate Right Now?
A good opportunity at the wrong time is unfortunate, but it happens. Are you already struggling to meet deadlines? Or do you have extra time between projects that you could spend on this? Outside of just time, how mentally drained are you feeling? Even if it’s personal projects and not business, if you’re scraping the bottom of your pool of energy, taking on a new project might not be the best idea right now.
Do You Really Need the Money?
In a perfect world, this wouldn’t factor in. But we all have bills to pay and sometimes you do need to take a project to keep the power on. HOWEVER! I highly advise against taking too many “pay the bills” clients because the more time you spend on work that isn’t paying you enough or that isn’t work you want to do is time you’re not spending finding the clients you do want.
What Was Your Gut Reaction? What’s Behind It?
And also how much do you trust your gut? I, personally, suffer from confidence issues, so I frequently need to disregard my first reaction and think things through logically. Often when my first reaction is, “No, I can’t do that!” I dig deeper and realize I’m just scared but have no logical reason to think I can’t complete a project.
If, however, your gut reaction stems more from distaste for the project, or not feeling comfortable with the person pitching it, let it go! Clients I’ve felt uncomfortable with initially have almost never worked out long term.
I wish there was more to it. Some specific, hard-and-fast rules, but really it all comes down to you. Are you the kind of person who’s comfortable learning on the fly? How well do you handle leaving your comfort zone? Do you take on too much and struggle to keep up?
There’s a learning curve and you’ll make mistakes at some point, but as long as you keep your yes and no skills sharp, you’ll eventually learn when and how often to use each.