When I was in the seventh grade I had just started to develop an interest in sports and decided I needed to find a sport to play. I had never played organized sports before, so I decided I would keep an open mind and just start trying things out.
The first sport I attempted to play was baseball. I had never played before so naturally I didn’t have any equipment – no bat, glove, cleats – nothing. Somehow, miraculously, on the day before tryouts I managed to borrow a baseball glove from someone, which luckily was the only requirement needed to attend the tryout. On the day of tryouts, everyone who was interested in playing for the 7th grade team met afterschool on the baseball diamond and received instructions from the coach on the series of drills we were going to do to assess our strengths and weaknesses. To say I did terrible would be an understatement; I completely bombed every drill in the tryout. I struck out during the batting drills, and I missed every ball in the catching drills.
The next day at school the coach posted a list on the wall that listed the names of the players who had made the team. While I knew my chances of making the team were slim, I was anxious to check the list anyway. Unfortunately (but not surprisingly), I didn’t make the team. To this day I still remember the feeling of being told No, but I don’t remember being terribly bothered by it. I don’t think I ever tried to play baseball again and eventually joined the 7th grade basketball team.
In the world of business, it seems that nearly everything is a tryout and at the end it’s either a Yes or a No. For a lot of people, being told No or actually saying No to someone else, is hard. In venture capital, saying No is normal and no one takes offense to it – it’s just a routine part of the game. I think people are used to saying No and hearing No a lot more often than they say or hear the word Yes.
The benefit of being told No is that you have immediate closure and clarity to move on to the next thing. The best forms of No are those that are coupled with feedback or a reason behind the decision. Not everyone feels the need to do that, but it can be helpful if you’re communicating with someone you’ll likely re-engage with at some point in the future.
Worst ways to tell someone No:
- Taking too long to respond
- Exhibiting unprofessional behavior in your response
- And the worst is never saying No at all.
Best ways to tell someone No:
- Offer a reason or feedback for your decision
- Emphasize the value of the relationship
- Show appreciation for the person’s time/effort
- Respond quickly and affirmatively with your decision
Being able to say No in a timely and respectful manner is an important business skill to develop that will help you earn the respect of your peers. Likewise, not being discouraged when you are told No is an equally (if not more) important skill. Regardless of what you do in life saying No and being told No is completely normal. Embrace it. Cheers – KM