A Discourse on No

I’m a member of a few Project Manager-ish type groups on LinkedIN. Recently, there was a big discussion about how to say No to a client. Some of my favorite answers from the discussion:

Just Don’t Say No
Use data and options to deliver the message instead of outright No to the receiver.

Threaten With Dire Consequence!
I find the best approach is to provide the consequences of saying yes to the person, party, group involved. Then asking them if you say yes which consequence are they willing to accept. If there are none then they will come to the same conclusion as you and they will tell themselves ‘No’.

Of course making sure the consequences are substantial is the key.

Make Jerky Assumptions
Unless it’s a true emergency situation, approaching “NO” as if it were a “YES” can usually deflect the request. Just select one of the following approaches.

1) Sure we can do that, what function(s) would you like us to remove so we can remain on budget and schedule?
2) Sure, I’m sure the senior executive won’t mind that we delay the project just for your request
3) Sure, can you give me your departmental charge code so I can start charging time to it.

You get the point.

By that time they will have figured out that the request could wait.

Agree and Back Out Of It Later
It’s quite difficult to say NO to local client however I always say “I will try”. Afterward I will send email explaining why it cannot be done and explain the impact if we still want to do it. It works most of the time for me

Obfuscate!
Start with the findings.

“The combination of factor after due diligence was done…”

And finish with

“Will regrettably lead us to conclude it is not possible/feasible/advisable/… To do what you require/need and hence our position is to cancel and reassess”

It Wasn’t Me!
I generally find a straightforward “no” accompanied by a brief explanation as to why not appeases most people. There will always be the difficult ones who still find it unacceptable, but I can usually pass the buck upstairs when that happens. These people soon learn that the “no” hasn’t come from me personally, but is an informed and calculated business decision backed by our Management Board.

But this guy nails it. If you’re going to say no, then just do it. Clearly, simply, honestly. Being direct and clear builds so much trust. No hiding, no pretending, just real communication.

“No” is an awesome word. It has HUGE impact when stated bluntly, because so many people actually AVOID using it in favour of long, convoluted explanations!

“No, because…” is a good way of getting the message of “No” across, with an element of softening of the impact of the (negative???) word.

We’re all aware of the emotional impact of being told “No”. So, qualifying the “No” with information that is relevant, focused, and of interest to the receiver, retains a lot of the impact of the “No”, while keeping the emotional response controlled (to a degree!)

I’m a big fan of the word no. Even hearing it.

I appreciate it when a supplier tells me “No”, instead of giving me some long explanation as to why a delivery/activity is not going to come in on time. The emotional response of hearing that long explanation (Frustration? Disappointment?) causes me more grief than the shock of a straight “No”. You can get over a No, and put a plan in place quickly.

Dealing with one of these explanations usually turns into a battle of wits, where you, the customer, is trying to tease a blunt “No” out of the supplier anyway!

I could write about this for days…

Ain’t language great?!? 😉

Being proud of ugly babies

Every once in a while, we finish something we think is awesome. Shiny. Spectacular. Perfect in every way. A tiny little flawless newborn code-baby, clearly demanding your adoration and unbounded love.

And then the client doesn’t like it. “Take that head off,” they say. “Paste it to the stomach, and then put both arms on the same side.” “Can we make it more monochrome? And there’s no reason for five toes on each foot, we only need seven toes, total.”

Agency work can be tough, sometimes. We want to be proud of our work, we want to build awesome things. And sometimes, we have to build what we think are monsters.

That’s okay though. Opinions are like, uhm, belly buttons. Everyone has one. And clients are always going to have their own. They are entitled. It’s their money and time and product, after all.

I do believe we have the obligation to advise when we see clients turning down the road to creating monster babies. We may have expertise, and I believe we have the responsibility to advise and inform. But ultimately, though we are building this thing, it is not ours. It is theirs. It is their right to not agree with us.

Perhaps we can take pride, instead, in our process. In the ability to build a great *anything.* To make happy clients. To enjoy the opportunity to shape a product, even if we are not the final decision makers. To enjoy and welcome the diversity of opinion.

…even if we do think that’s the ugliest baby we’ve ever produced.

Shifting expectations

I have a client that we have favored highly over the past few weeks – often at the expense of other clients, or at the expense of my development staff’s sanity. After riding out a wave of unforeseen emergencies, we are now transitioning into a regular maintenance schedule.

It’s difficult, at times, to transition clients to new expectations while still keeping them happy. We generally release to production weekly for our web maintenance clients – but for some people, that just seems too infrequent. On their side, they are not accustomed to planning that far in advance. Or a low priority item suddenly becomes urgent because of the time spent waiting in the backlog.

Therefore, we live in a reactionary state to their lack of planning.

Transitional times like this, I try to focus on my empathy – what is the client feeling now? Why aren’t they thinking ahead? Have they ever done this sort of thing before? What pressures are they feeling, and how can I help them feel more in control?

There is certainly a balance – how much I’m willing to give, how much I need to enforce the rules. And certainly, the more precedent I set of disregarding our process, the more difficult it is to enforce process. In the end, an open mind and an open line of communication, laced with a heavy dose of empathy and understanding, tends to do the trick.