5 Tips On the Art of Saying No in Business

Strategy is focus, which is about saying no. Management, particularly in the world of entrepreneurship and small business, boils down to knowing when and how to say no. On the surface, from the outside, that probably seems simple. NoBut try it and it gets a lot more complex.

For example, how do you say no to a new idea without stifling the flow of other new ideas? How do you say no to a bright young enthusiastic person without dampening that enthusiasm? Saying no can be as hard as nails.

Still, you really have to be able to say no to manage a company. And not just to not-so-good ideas, but — and here’s where it really hurts — sometimes even to good ideas that just won’t fit into the space allotted. You need to say no to some things to have any shot at strategic focus. It blends in nicely with the principle of displacement, which is basically that everything you do rules out other things that you don’t do. And you can’t do everything.

I have no delusions about being good at saying no. But maybe that’s why I’m sensitive to the problem.  I do have some tips, developed through the years, that might help you.

1.  Recognize the problem.

It starts with recognizing the problem. Yes, you have to say no; but realize that every no answer reduces the chance of another idea or suggestion coming forward. Be very mindful of the problem. You’ve got a strike against you. Be aware of it.

You’ve got some explaining to do.

2.  Blame the company, and the situation, not the idea itself.

It wasn’t a bad idea, it’s that this company needs to do something differently right now because of these company-related reasons. Actually it’s a great idea and it’s really disappointing that we don’t have the resources to jump on it now. We’re stuck in this valley and we need to get up on that hill so we can start working on great ideas like this one.

3.  Blame displacement.

So, given displacement, it’s not that your idea isn’t great; it’s that we can’t jump on it without pulling off of some of the things we’re already doing. What do you think? Which of our priorities can we adjust? Where do we cut time, money, effort, and resources from something else so we can get them for this new thing. Where do you think those other things are off base?

4. Reward the idea and suggestion.


You can fight the sting of a rejected idea by rewarding the person even without adopting the idea. “Even though we can’t move forward with that, I love the creativity and that you made the suggestion,” you say, “so take somebody out to dinner with the company card.” Or give some other immediate reward, a small bonus, extra time off, whatever works in your context.

5. Keep an idea archive for the future.

Find somewhere in your organization to keep a file on new ideas and suggestions. Just putting them into the file reduces the sting of having said no. And sometimes that file becomes a source for solutions to future problems. It’s a quick way to give value to the ideas that didn’t fit, and reinforce the organization’s respect for ideas and suggestions, even without implementing them.


  • CommDigest » 25 tips for saying no says:

    […] Tim Berry: Reward the idea and suggestion. In business, you often have to say no to ideas, even good ideas, […]

  • 25 tips for saying no says:

    […] Tim Berry: Reward the idea and suggestion. In business, you often have to say no to ideas, even good ideas, […]

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