Here’s a Monkey or How I Learned to Say No

by Jocelyn Welles

Very early in my career,  my boss, Joan Carol pulled me aside and said, you know you were pretty negative with that client when we were trying to win their business. To me it was really clear that what the client was asking for would not, ever in a million years work. And I told them so. Well, turns out when you’re trying to win a client’s business, that’s not always the best approach.  

The Art of Saying No is contextual. If you don’t learn how to do it right,  best case scenario you end up pissing them off, best case. Worst case, which I also did quite alot, you end up taking on others problems, working on them, then not really doing much of anything up to your own standards.

So I learned to say No. When should you say No? 

When the person making the request really should and could solve for themselves. 

This person may come to you and say “can you help me with this.” Maybe they even say please. As a get it done sort of person you might be inclined to say “just easier to do it myself”. But imagine if 5 people came to you during the course of the day, all with their own problem they want to hand to you. Imagine those monkeys jumping on your back, your head, your desk. By the end of the day you would feel entirely exhausted and with small accomplishment to show for that. Just picture that pile of monkeys!

Instead of taking the monkey from them, I started to ask them questions about their particular monkey. What part of this project/situation is feeling troubling to you? How could you break it down so you can understand what ARE the challenging bits. Now, how can you handle or address that. Pretty quickly I learned that my staff (family members, clients, suppliers) actually knew the answers they needed, the just needed the help uncovering the sticky bits, and could come up with the best way to resolve their own problems. 

In the end, I said No, I will not accept your monkey. But I will help you figure out how to get your own monkey to behave.

There, that’s your monkey, not mine. 

When you’re asked/considering giving your time and energy to an organization, a cause, a committee..

This one is much more internal. 

First, pause a bit and notice how you are feeling with the ask.

Focus in on what you feel, do you WANT to do this? Do you know WHY you want to do it?  Will it take away from your other life and professional priorities?

By the time you work through those questions, you should know if saying yes or no to the request is the right patch for you.

So, let’s say it’s a worthy cause, but the request for your time and energy is not in alignment with your priorities. 

You can say something like: That sounds really worthwhile, but for me, I have to be honest, I don’t have the energy to put in to it right now. I really have to focus on what’s on my plate right now.

Often you can offer an alternative way of supporting, with a donation or a specific offer of your time on a specific project.

Above all, don’t be wishy washy when saying no, both you and the requestor need a firm answer. They get to move on to the next candidate on their list and you can honor your priorities.

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