say no when it matters

The art of discernment: How to say no when it matters

Every person is constrained by a finite number of hours in the day to achieve their professional, personal and health goals. I tell my clients that this means there is a physical limit to how much a person can do, which is why they need to learn to say no to things that won’t add value to their lives, brands and goals.

I’ve found that using a strategic approach to what I commit to helps build a stronger personal brand that has a clear focus. It also protects me from getting burned out or from dropping the ball because I can’t give something the attention it deserves. Plus, I’ve learnt when it comes to my personal brand, it’s more important what I say ‘no’ to than what I say ‘yes’ to. Why? Well, everything you do contributes towards your brand (whether you’ve ever thought about that or not!). So, because I’m looking to build my brand in specific areas, I need to be ultra-focused so as not to dilute my efforts.

One of the best realisations I’ve come to in my life is that being busy and being efficient are not the same thing. Sometimes even a great idea can be a bad idea if it doesn’t align with your personal brand, goals or values. For example, you might find opportunities arise that are attractive financially, but they might not be a good fit for your personal brand. In my experience, people who chase financial gain rather than sticking by their values run the risk of diluting their personal brand, which has much more value over the long term than a single financial opportunity could offer.

So, how do you decide what activities and involvements to say no to? Here are seven questions I use to assess an opportunity:

  • Will this activity help me to reach my target market?
  • Will I have to compromise on any of my values to do this?
  • What are my reasons for wanting to do this project? Are these reasons I can justify in good faith?
  • Does the client see value in what I’m offering?
  • Have I had any previous bad experiences with this client?
  • Will the energy I invest yield a return?
  • Can I reasonably deliver something of high quality in the timeframe I’ve been given?

How to say no

Saying no to an opportunity is a sensitive moment in a relationship, and I’m a firm believer that there are ways to do it that preserve integrity and reputation, leaving the door open for future possibilities that are better aligned to your personal brand.

I’ve found that the approach that works for me is to begin by acknowledging the request and expressing gratitude for being considered. I then explain if I don’t have the time to give it my best attention. In these instances, I also explain to the client that they would benefit from finding someone who can devote more time and energy to the project.

Sometimes, it’s not about time. Sometimes I need to turn down an opportunity because it will mean compromising my values, or giving up valuable time I need to spend on things that are more important to me  – like being at my kids’ key sports events or our family dinners.

You can’t be everything to everyone. This means you will inevitably have to make choices about where to invest your time. It’s important to carefully consider what value a project or opportunity will add to your personal brand and have the courage to say no to things that will ultimately cost you more in time, reputation and integrity than they are worth.


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