Don’t Be Afraid to Say No

My graphic designer just told me he wouldn’t make a change I requested, and it’s why I think he does such a great job.  The change was a bad idea, but I didn’t know enough about printing and design to have caught it.  Of course, he didn’t just refuse the request, he explained his reasoning, understood the root cause of my request, and explained an alternative way to solve my problem without creating a new one.  He generated value through his advice and expertise, even if it meant telling me he wouldn’t do what I asked.

Many professionals would be afraid to say the same thing.  They’ve been raised on platitudes that the customer is always right,or that they should lead with yes.  But clients are different than customers.  They aren’t hiring you for your ability to execute, they hire you for an outcome, and that outcome relies not only on your expertise, but on you having the courage to deliver it in the face of a client who disagrees.  Then they go from an expert to an order taker, eventually delivering an inferior outcome as the result of acquiescing to a series of small but ill advised requests.

True professionals are leaders in their client firms, and peers with their clients.  They aren’t afraid to say no, but they’re smart about how they do it.  They explain their reasoning, showing how the request won’t help the client accomplish their goal.  They understand the root cause of the request and find an alternative solution to it.  And they help the client focus on the outcome rather than the minutiae.

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