Learning How and When to Say No

Last month I was sitting in an office meeting when my mind drifted back to high school. What I remembered was something a sociology teacher was spouting off about. Fortunately for me I was paying attention to her because what she was talking about was very profound then and is still relevant today — learning to say NO!

During the almost three decades being in business saying those two letters may not have been the most important words I have ever uttered. But, recently I have found myself saying NO more frequently than in the past. Yes, some of these are on a personal level (“No you can’t buy a new car” to my 22-year-old). But I also find myself saying NO in the office, on a job site, or in a design meeting.

There is nothing wrong with saying NO. In fact, it is a good thing. It shows you know how to set limits, that you can’t be bullied, etc. The challenge, though, is not only in knowing when to say NO, but how to say it without seeming bullheaded and inflexible.

For example, with the recent decline in new home building, the demand for remodeling is increasing. I have noticed there are more prospective clients out there who want more for less and they are adamant about it. I hear phrases such as “my builder said that we could build for $175 per square foot. I expect you to remodel for that price.” My answer is NO, but then I explain that $175 per square foot is reasonable for new construction where you are working with a clean slate. But it is too low for remodeling, because not only are we building walls, we are taking down walls as well, which is not done in new construction. If the client accepts this, fine. If not, we move on. Another example. An employee suggested a change to an office policy. The idea was to allow trade contractors direct access to many of the projects without one of our employees being present. The thinking behind the idea was it would save our project managers time in the morning opening up the sites. I was delighted that she had taken the initiative to think about and suggest something that she thought would make the company better. Unfortunately, our clients expect someone from DCC to be on-site first thing in the morning because it gives them a sense of security knowing we are there at the beginning of the day to open up and at the end of the day to close up. So, the answer was NO. But I did not just say no. I commended the employee for coming up with the idea, explained why it wouldn’t work, and concluded on a positive note by encouraging her to continue to present her ideas.

I ask myself why I am saying NO more now than ever in the past. I think it is because experience has made me more comfortable uttering the word. That is a good thing. But saying NO too often can be bad. For example, saying NO could be a way to avoid taking risks and trying new things. That is especially easy to do when your business is successful, as ours is. I realize I am very hesitant about making changes that I know are for the betterment of our company. So I now find myself in the position of making sure I am saying NO for the right reasons. Time will tell whether I will look at our business with a much more open mind, and learn how to say YES when my brain tells me that is what I should say.

This is my last column for the year and would like to wish everyone a very early Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanza, and a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year. See you in January.

Michael a. Menn, aia, cgr, caps, is a principal in Design Construction Concepts. D+CC is an award winning design/build firm that was honored as the Chrysalis State and Midwest Remodeler of the year in 2003. Menn is a licensed architect, remodeler and frequent industry speaker. He can be reached at michael@dcc-ltd.com.