I said no to the meeting and the world didn’t end

Posted by Stacey Brown Randall

If you are like me there are many, many demands on your time. From my growing business to three kids to a husband with two businesses. 

And as my time is stretched, so, sometimes, is my patience.

Sound familiar?

One key muscle I began flexing as my business took off a few years back was to say no. 

You won’t find me as a Room Mom for my kids (God bless the moms and dads who do that).

You won’t find me attending every business event I am invited to.

You won’t find me saying yes to all the boards, committees and task forces I am asked to join.

But I have found one of the hardest no’s I have to give is when someone asks for my time. Those “pick my brain” coffee meetings. Or “can I just have 20 minutes at your convenience.”

Truth is...they are never really convenient. So I have to be good (and strong) at discerning who I say yes to and who I say no to.   It is hard and sometimes I feel bad.  And when you feel bad about a decision – letting someone down, hurting their feeling – you are more likely to make an “emotional” decision and say yes to avoid disappointing the other person. 

I have found three strategies that make all the difference for me in staying strong when saying no.   

1. Make decisions in advance

What I have found that helps me is to keep a list of the different types of situations I am likely to say yes to and those I am probably going to say no too.

--Want me to speak to an audience of small business owners or busy working professionals on a topic I currently monetize in my business (either my online courses, workshops or one-on-one coaching)?  Going to be a yes.

--Want me to speak to your organization when my ideal client isn’t in the audience?  Going to be a no.

--Want me to speak on a topic I am known for in the past (past expertise) but is not monetized in my current business?  Going to be a no.

And I also have a firm idea of who I will say yes to and who I will say no too.  Again, that’s not to be mean…but I can’t have coffee or lunch with everyone who asks and too many brain picking meetings and there will be no brain left for me and my business.

2. Know how you will say no in advance

Creating standard responses is a great tactic to help you remove some of your emotional attachment to saying no.  In my first business I was an HR consultant and had a few areas of expertise.  Even though that was years ago and my current coaching practice has a different focus and target market, I still receive requests to speak on those HR topics and to meet with people so they can “pick my brain” on the topics.  I finally had to learn how to say no and having a standard response makes it easy. 

I always try to be gracious because I know the person is usually looking for help.  There are cases where the person is just looking for free advice too but I treat each request the same.  I explain my business has changed focus and I made the tough decision a few years ago to stay focused on my company’s core as I grow my business.  I thank them for reaching out and wish them the best of luck.  I may also customize the message if needed, like if I know of another resource I will provide it.    

I have found the responses I receive back to be positive and that has to do with the way I handle the request.  Here is one response I received recently… “Thanks Stacey.  I appreciate your truth and respect your decision.  I wish you well in your coaching business!”

3. For repeated requests, have a process you stick to weed out those not serious

This is a key strategy if you receive the same request over and over again.  I had a CEO in the commercial real estate industry who was asked by people he knows to meet with “a recent college grad who has an interest in real estate” or the young professional reached out directly and asked for a “few minutes of his time.” 

What’s interesting is that the CEO enjoyed doing these meetings but over time became tired of it because he noticed a trend that clearly pointed to the fact he was wasting his time.  A majority of the meetings were a waste in his opinion because the advice he would give and the introductions he would make were never followed up on by the young professionals.  And in some cases they hadn’t done any research on the commercial real estate field so he spent time explaining how the industry worked rather than actually answering questions to help the person understand a direction to consider for a career. 

So we developed a standard response his assistant could initiate on his behalf.  He basically created hoops to jump though and if the person completed the process then the CEO was more than happy to meet with them.  The response his assistant sent out was an email with a few standard questions about their interest, what they know about the industry and why they want to meet.  He also requested they check out a few online resources to learn more prior to the meeting.  Can you guess what happened? 

Sadly, a majority never took the time to answer the questions (in fact they didn’t even respond back). 

But those who did complete the pre-meeting work got their meeting and the meetings were more productive for both parties involved.

It is important to get clear on what matters and make a commitment to stick to those decisions. Following the three strategies above will make a difference in how you protect your time and will make you feel better about your decision.  Just because you may disappoint someone is never a reason to make a decision you will regret later.  Your time is valuable so make a decision to be willing to protect it. 

Have you had to say no to someone and it was hard?  How did you handle it and what was the outcome?  Please share in the comments so others can learn from you too.  



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