For anyone who is involved in leading, managing or selling, i.e. anyone who asks commitments of other people, the one word that I think we’d all love to hear more of is a simple ‘no’.

Who among us hasn’t been given commitment from someone that they’ll do something and then they simply disappear, or pretend it never occurred. Then you finally reach them, ask them what happened, and they act surprised that you thought there was a commitment. This happens all the time.

With our clients – we try and get their approval to move to the next step in the selling cycle.

With our employees – we try and get them onside in our leadership direction, or project, and get their OK that they’re with us.

With bosses – we try and get their commitment to fulfil whatever it is they’ve promised.

Yet people saying no seems to be more and more challenging in today’s culture. Maybe it’s because there’s less face-to-face interaction. As well, texting, Instant Messaging, email , social media and tools such as Slack and Basecamp enable communication but also reduce face-to-face interactions which I believe impacts people’s sense of connection with each other.

Let’s look at ‘no’ and all the things it does for us:

  1. It’s efficient. Whatever your role in life, time is the one thing that you never get back and and none of it should go to waste. Saying “no” to someone is a respectful way of guiding that person to use your mutual time together more efficiently.
  2. It’s clear. “No” says that you are willing to be direct, up front and that you think I have the intellect and emotional maturity to interpret that information without losing my cool. I know where you stand so I can move on.
  3. It indicates respect and boundaries. I used to work summers in Montreal as a mailman, replacing the regular fellows on their routes when they were on holiday. That started at 6 am every morning and involved me saying no to going out with my friends many evenings, or calling it quits early. They respected that and appreciated me taking my responsibilities seriously.
  4. It’s a shelter from overload.  We’re constantly being inundated with demands on our energy and time. Saying no, respectfully, may end up with some push back but ultimately people will appreciate the stance that you’re taking and the integrity of your decision. Perhaps sandwiched with a few yeses will make it a bit easier on the ears.
  5. It tells people that you have a focus, and makes your ‘yes’ more powerful. Now, people may disagree with your focus but at least you have one. We live in a world with infinite choices and on-demand services. “No” gives you the ability to clearly state your priorities and make the decision to live your life with intent.

Conversely, when you’re trying to get someone to come along with you and truly show that they’re committed to your endeavor:

Ask for their word of honour: Try asking them to back their promise with his or her word of honour. Look them in the eye and say, “Now do I have your word that you’ll do that, no matter what?” When people give their word of honour, it’s a deeper level of commitment than a simple “Mmhm, or yes.”

Ask them to summarize the commitment: Have the person summarize back to you what will be done and backtracking and clarifying while letting them give you the details. You say something like, “I want to make sure you and I both understand how this will be done. Could you describe to me what you will do and when?”

Get it in writing: It’s never a bad idea to get things in writing. Beyond documenting an agreed course of action, there is something about the physical act of writing down a commitment that makes it easier to remember and more likely to be acted on.

Describe the negative consequences: Try pointing out the possible negative consequence of not keeping the commitment. To be most effective, put them in terms of people and relationship. “Now let’s imagine it is Wednesday at 10:23 and this project you’ve agreed to do doesn’t get done. How is everyone going to feel around here who was depending on you?”

So let’s try and be more honest and respectful with each other. And the next time you’re prevaricating on a commitment that you’ve made to someone else, just say no!