The Gift of “No”


Time.   We spend it, and we can’t get it back.

Recent life events have me thinking about implementing a Bloomberg-style countdown clock.  The broader goal:  optimizing my productivity, recovery, and relationships.   Doing what really matters.

Every day, opportunities arise.  Events.  Invitations to connect via social media.  Requests for our participation.  Offers of introductions.

And, oh yeah, my own ideas about what I should, can, or might do.

Sometimes I say yes.  And sometimes, “No, thank you.”

It’s about time, and attention.

I also listen for No, and endeavor to hear it.   Every business owner has to be a salesperson; I’ve been riding quite a learning curve with this skill set.

One lesson learned: there are many flavors of No.

There’s Not Now, which I’ve rarely seen move to a yes.  (Maybe as I become a better salesperson, my conversion rate will improve?)

There’s also Not Yet, which I see as an invitation to build relationship.

Mark Suster recently shared Paul C. Brunson’s simple approach to building relationship:  “I give, give, give, give, give, then ask.”


There’s the Non-Response.   This can be tough to read.   When faced with someone’s Non-Response, I consider relationship, any knowledge about work/family demands they may be feeling, the possibility that my message may not have been received…

And oh, yeah.  The fact that I’m not the center of the universe.

The Non-Response can be a Not Now, a Not Yet, a mixed message, or a missed message.  And sometimes it’s a No.

No can be a difficult conversation.   It may challenge our perception of ourselves as one of the nice guys.

To me, No is a gift.   Whether I’m giving, or receiving.

No need to mark the calendar to follow up.  To send that email or note, or pick up the phone.   No need to ruminate over what may or may not happen.

The gift is clarity.  Honesty.

And most of all, No is the gift of time.   For all parties.

When we open this gift, we can step into a universe of other possibilities.   Discoveries we can make only when we have time to explore.


Photo:  No Hunting Sign 5-9-09 4 by Steven Depolo, via Flickr, under Creative Commons license.  (And wow, you really find some interesting people on Flickr.   Steven’s photostream is filled with interestingness and beauty!)

Worst Boss Ever

The Yeller.   The Sexual Harasser.   The Political Operative.

The Bus-Thrower-Underer.

I’ve seen these bad bosses, but never worked for one.

Over a long career I’ve had mostly good bosses.  They cared about supporting my work.  The great ones also cared about my development.

I’ve had a few bad bosses, too — all good people.

What makes a bad boss?   Lack of experience, for one.   By now, some of my less-than-good bosses may have mastered the art of management.   Practice helps.

In our eight-month relationship, my Worst Boss Ever* and I had two conversations that lasted more than 30 minutes:  our interview, and the meeting when they extended the offer.

After that, they hid.  In their office, and by going on the road.

What did they think, or feel?  My bet’s on discomfort and fear.  They were a mid-career professional with a solid track record in staff roles.  Newly promoted, they may have been managing a team for the first time.

Though we met maybe another 3 times, I saw enough to see their essential kindness.

Yet what I experienced was their indifference.  This was actually painful.

They left the company, I stayed.  Life went on.

In discussion over at Fred Wilson’s blog, I blurted that “relationship” was the atomic unit of management.   On reflection, this is not true.

Conversation is the atomic unit of management.

Conversation at work can be strategic.  Some conversations move the ball forward, others are relationship glue.  All are important.

If you’re a manager, one of the best things you can do is make a practice of talking with your team members, individually.  Electronic devices holstered.

Nobody sees a flower, really — it is so small — we haven’t time, and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.

Georgia O’Keefe

Discuss progress towards goals, of course.  Get to know people, too.

Indifference is insidious.   Partly because it’s not obviously Bad.

When you invest precious time and attention in your people, you oppose indifference.  You offer commitment.  Visibly.

The result is relationship.  Work and life are both enriched.

* To protect their identity, I’ve fictionalized details about my Worst Boss Ever.  Knowing what I know today, I’d act to create a different relationship.  And yet, I could only give the best I had at that time — and they gave it their best, too.   Full disclosure:  some I managed early in my career could call me their Worst Boss Ever.  There are no management prodigies.

Photo credit:  1. The chief and subordinated by valeriy osipov, used under Creative Commons license.