Art of Managing: The Power of a Well-Placed “No”

ArtofManaging“Don’t tell me what you’re doing. Tell me what you’ve stopped doing.” Peter Drucker

“No” is one of the most powerful and under-utilized terms in your management vocabulary. Here are ten situations where “No” might be the absolute right call.

10 Situations Where “No”  Might Just Save the Day:

 1. In strategy when the potential vector or investment is outside your competence and core strategy, no matter how potentially lucrative. If the strategy is broken, fix it, but don’t risk diluting your efforts chasing shiny objects.

2. When saying “yes” to a project creates a too many projects chasing too few resources situation. The project/resource imbalance is epidemic in most firms. Cut it out. Either find more resources or, follow Drucker’s advice and quit doing something else!

3. When you find yourself fighting your gut instinct on hiring someone. This is one situation where the gut is almost always right. The credentials, smiles and interviewing skills might be saying “yes,” but if the gut says “no,” listen to it!

 4. When someone suggests you cut quality to satisfy cost targets. There’s always a better way.

5. When someone asks you to “take off your (insert function) hat and put on your (insert function) hat.” Sorry, but what they’re really asking you to do is to suspend your common sense, put aside your experience-based judgment, lobotomize yourself and pursue a path that is wrong. This approach reflects pure management evil!

6. When the mantra coming from the team is, “…but, with just a little bit more time and money…  .” These more time and money pleas are indicators that you are blazing a path down the sunk cost trail. Quit throwing good cash after bad. The old cash is gone. It’s sunk. Call it.

 7. When a pending decision puts you on the uncomfortable side of an ethical dilemma. If it’s gray, say “No” and seek counsel. In that order. It’s called moral courage.

 8. When everyone in the group is nodding their head “yes” too quickly and too easily. Saying “No” is the last line of defense against group-think.

9. Whenever someone suggests outsourcing a customer facing function. Outsourcing customer service should be a crime punishable by prison time. Just say “No!”

10. When restructuring is suggested as a fix to an organization’s problems without consideration of the impact it will have on customers. It’s amazing how easy it is to lose track of what counts when the turf battles begin.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

It’s hard to say “no.” We often associate “yes” with right and good. Too often, “yes” is the weak response. It’s time to practice putting your tongue on the roof of your mouth and emphasize the N in this powerful and value saving and creating word, “No!”

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By | 2016-10-22T17:11:22+00:00 April 7th, 2013|Art of Managing, Career, Decision-Making|7 Comments

About the Author:

Art Petty is a coach, speaker and workshop presenter focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. When he is not speaking, Art serves senior executives, business owners and high potential professionals as a coach and strategy advisor. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.


  1. Katy April 7, 2013 at 7:00 pm - Reply

    Great article Art! In my personal life I try to remember that “no” is a complete sentence and I don’t always have to explain myself. In business it’s a little different – often you need to soften a “no” with an explanation. With that said, setting boundaries is a core skill for leaders. It’s better to do a smaller number of things really well than a whole lot of things really badly.

    • Art Petty April 7, 2013 at 7:06 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Katy! Love the setting boundaries theme! Thanks for reading and for sharing your wisdom. -Art

  2. Sandy Hernandez April 9, 2013 at 1:10 pm - Reply

    Great share Art!

    So often people forget that many, many times a well placed NO……… truly the beginning of a real way forward.

    • Art Petty April 9, 2013 at 1:20 pm - Reply

      Well said, Sandy!

  3. Vol.13 No.8 June-17-2013 August 11, 2013 at 5:22 pm - Reply

    […] Hiring on Gut:  Consultant Art Petty says when you find yourself fighting your gut instinct on hiring someone the gut is almost always right. The credentials, smiles and interviewing skills might be saying “yes” but if the gut says “no”, listen to it. (Source: Management Excellence Blog) […]

  4. Lori Bruhns February 23, 2014 at 12:29 pm - Reply

    Great article. As a time management consultant I help my audience practice saying no by saying it with me. I also tell them that saying no and giving an alternate choice is easier and softer than just a no. As a mom of twins and entrepreneur I have learned how to say no for the good of all involved.
    Thanks Ali for the article.

  5. Jaw February 23, 2014 at 2:34 pm - Reply

    Regarding adherence to the core strategy of the business, companies must deliver a consistent message from all employees to customers and potential customers about the products, and services they sell, which reduces the number of occasions the company will say, no to customers, and potential customers, who inquire about their products and services. I encountered situations at work when co-workers provided assistance to customers that was not part of the contracts with customers that caused the same customers to question the reason the same support was not provided by another employee the next time the same customers contacted the company.

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