Say No Rather Than Nothing

98592171_ada53479ca_mIn the business world, whether online or offline, there are ample opportunities to ask questions, ask for favors, ask for a quote, ask for a sale, or ask for any number of other things. Usually, for the person who is asking, the experience can at best be a little uncomfortable. Depending on what is at stake, the experience can be nerve-wracking. For a person asking about a job position, your answer could be life-changing, in fact.

Paradoxically, as communication has become increasingly easier, our ability to respond to these “asks” seems to have dissipated. I was shocked, during my last few months in grad school, to find how few responses I received as I sent out resumé after resumé. Even more shocking was an experience I had after my first job interview out of graduate school. At the interview I was told there was a deadline by which I would be told one way or another. The day came and went and I assumed that I had not gotten the position, but I wanted that hypothesis to be confirmed. It took about a week to finally get the solid answer I was looking to receive. I think if I had not pursued the interviewers, they simply would never have contacted me.

Too Many Favors to Count

One could argue that our online connections expose us to more favors than we would ordinarily experience, and a lot of the favors we get asked for are not work-related. However, there is an unspoken pressure on everyone these days to avoid the word “no” or the phrase “I can’t.” It is easier, one supposes, to pretend the email or message was never received. “My silence will tell the story,” a person might figure.

Silence does indeed tell a story, but it may not be the story you intend. Especially in a  business setting, a failure to respond can be viewed as irresponsible, unprofessional, and even disrespectful. As a person in business, you know that work, appointments, and plans need to be scheduled. If you leave someone hanging, it can put them in an extremely awkward situation not just in regards to you but with respect to other projects they are putting off till they hear from you.

Pull the Band-Aid Off Fast

I like to ask people sometimes whether they are a “pull the Band-Aid off fast” kind of person. I have always been a “pull it off fast” kind of person. If you are not going to be able to do something, just say so. I can withstand minor disappointments. In fact, I would say most people and companies can handle these little curveballs. They are expected. If you hesitate, remain silent, or wait for the issue to slowly disappear into the ether, you can do a lot more damage than if you simply give an honest answer to start. In the personal world you can negatively impact your friendships. In the business world, you can negatively impact your reputation as a professional. A moment of awkwardness is surely preferable to either of those scenarios, right?

Have you encountered an experience where just hearing “no” would have been better than a long delay? Have you found yourself hesitating to respond because you know your answer will be negative or unwanted? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nathangibbs/98592171/ via Creative Commons


2 comments on “Say No Rather Than Nothing

  1. Great points – we typically do not respond because we are (1) too busy, (2) too “put-out”, or (3) do not like the implied conflict that comes with saying “no”.

    #1 is tough…when you are too busy and already encroaching on personal commitments, things slip through the cracks. If we are getting bombarded with “asks”, why should the burden remain on us to respond to them? We are not the ones asking.

    #2 can also be tough unless one of your “no’s” makes it very clear that you will NEVER be interested in that particular ask…and to continue asking is a quick way to toss a relationship to the curb.

    #3 is somewhat societal in my opinion. We avoid conflict…not recognizing that conflict generally drives resolution, without driving resentment, if done well.

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