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How do you say “No”?

Everyone in a work environment has faced this challenge – “How do you say No?”. Product Managers face this very often as they deal with multiple stake holders and communication is a big portion of what they do daily.

I would answer this question with a short example which is generic and doesn’t necessarily deal with Product Management.

Scenario – When you need to say no

You are having a busy day with tones of things to do. A senior colleague (not your direct supervisor but his counter part) walks up to you and asks for your help in a PPT which he needs to submit by the end of the day. He says its urgent and important. You know if you pick this item you won’t be able to finish up with what you already have on your plate.

Possible Solution – When you need to say no

You would respond saying – “I can understand that its important for you to have this by today, but I am afraid considering what I already have on my plate I will be able to do this only by Thursday. I have worked on something in this topic earlier, I can share some good references with you to help you with it on an urgent basis”

There are 3 important aspects of this answer

#1 – Start with empathy

Start with a phrase that shows empathy towards the person requesting you for the task. The best way to do this is by feeling genuinely empathetic against the need for the task.

#2 – Put down repercussions if the job is done

Now you need to be clear why you don’t want to fulfill this person’s request. Why can’t you do it? What will happen if you were to do it? The repercussions, challenges, priorities, etc.

# 3 – Provide alternatives that can help the need

The above example provides 2 alternatives, the person can do it if given time till Thursday or he is ready to share helpful references for accomplishing the task. Someone has walked up to you for help, its important that you provide him the simplest of help, this creates good will – major reason why you find it hard to say no.

Relating to Product Management

As a Product Manager, consider your busy day as the high priority backlog of your development team. The ‘Boss like’ person as an important stakeholder, who has a critical business requirement. You need to explain the repercussions of picking his requirement on priority. Moreover, provide him an alternative solution or a work around that can help fix his issue with the current product.

I had initially opened up this topic simply for discussion. I would love your feedback, experiences, tips, etc on saying no.

Answers Welcomed!

Mohammed Jamil Nasir
Nasir manages Products, by providing business oriented technology solutions. He is at the center of discussions ranging from a long-term vision or competitive strategy, or improving business processes, or a client demo, or the right marketing strategy, to, project delivery commitments, or improving UX, or technical architecture, or recruiting developers. He has a Global MBA from S P Jain, Engineering in Computer Science, 6 years of work experience and a flair for writing & poetry.