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The Power of No

Kelly Greene Elrod
November 10, 2019 0 Comment

We all know how powerful the word “no” can be. Depending on the preceding question, the answer of “no” can make us feel the most amazing relief or like we are floating on clouds. Conversely, hearing “no” can also make us feel like we are under 50 feet of water and tied to an anvil. “No” is powerful…and that power, more often than not, is rarely tapped into as entrepreneurs. Why?

My theory…fear. Sounds crazy right? When you are scared, “no” seems to be an appropriate word. When watching horror films, “no” is definitely heard more than “yes.” When asking my mother if she wants to go bungee jumping, a quick “no” is an automatic response. I can guarantee if you ask my mother-in-law if she’d like to jump on a plane today the answer would be a resounding and immediate “no.” “No” is a natural response to a fearful situation. So why is it so rarely used in small business during fearful situations? Because in small business, the fear of saying “no” is greater than the dread of saying “yes.”

Chew on that for a minute. The fear of saying “no” is greater than the dread of saying “yes.” As entrepreneurs, our biggest fear is failure. We believe we must say “yes” to every client in order not to fail. We believe that saying “no” is only for large companies with big operating accounts who can afford to lose clients. Likewise, we believe we must accommodate every client, customer, patient, etc. to the expense of ourselves, if we want to make our businesses survive and grow.

For example, I have a client that literally makes my skin crawl. When they call or email with a new issue, I seriously just want to close the company. No kidding. Every time I promise myself, I won’t help them again and every time they call, I cheerfully, say “yes, I’m happy to help!” I become a fraud and a liar because I’m afraid to say “no.” And then, guess what happens? The same thing that would happen to my mother if she said yes to bungee jumping or if my mother-in-law said yes to flying on a plane. Dread. Fear. Probably even physical sickness. All because we said “yes” to the wrong thing. Oy vey!

I just read an article about this topic that quoted Warren Buffet. The quote is, “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.” Check out the article on (It is a great read on the value of saying “no.”) As a business owner, you have to take pause at Warren Buffet’s advice. I’ll be honest, this is a tough one for me. I don’t want to tell my clients “no.” I don’t want to tell my employees “no.” I don’t want to tell my friends “no.” Heck! I don’t want to tell my child “no,” even though that one comes much easier…probably because it is easier to understand the terrible outcome of “yes.” When my daughter says, “Mommy, can I drive the car?” That’s an easy “no,” because I know that a 4 year old driving a car will definitely result in an accident and most likely result in terrible physical harm. Knowing the outcome takes the fear out of saying “no.”

So let’s apply this to our businesses. What would happen if I said “no” to the client who makes my skin crawl, or if I said “no” to an employee request. What would be the outcome of the “no” response? Would the client give me a bad review? Maybe. Would the employee quit? Probably not, but they could. Depending on the question, I can do an analysis to reasonably predict the outcome. I obviously can’t answer those for you, but you can also do an analysis for your situation. In doing this analysis, we need to see how much saying “yes” is costing us in time, in money and in emotional distress. ALL of these have value. As entrepreneurs we typically only look at the monetary value and dismiss the time and emotional value of a situation. If a terrible client makes you an extra $500 per month but takes up 5 hours of your time and gives you 5 migraines per month, is it worth it? Only you can answer that.

The point is that we should do more, as entrepreneurs, to harness the power of “no.” Take into consideration, the value of your time and emotions, before saying “yes” to the next request. Unless it is me requesting something from you…then definitely say “yes!”