The Clarifying Power of “No”

One thing that new in-house attorneys have drilled into their heads is the importance of the legal department not being seen as a roadblock. This brings with it the avoidance of saying “no” –  and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Too many lawyers ARE roadblocks, preferring to mitigate every possible risk rather than focus on the business opportunities lying on the flip side of those risks.

However, this Seth Godin post from the other day reminded me that – despite my 20+ years of in-house work – I’m still a big believer in the power of “no.”

I love “no.” I use “no” all the time.

However, “no” has to be used right. “No” isn’t an excuse to do less work, or (worse still) to stifle a massive opportunity.  It shouldn’t be a shortcut or a default setting.

It’s also something I probably use more in negotiating than in dealing with internal clients. But there, too. Because where “no” gets its power is in clarifing the issues.

If you know the answer is going to be “no,” why not get there quickly and move on?

Too many times, we feel like it’s more polite, or more preserving of feelings, or less adversarial, to hem, haw and equivocate. But all that aimless discussion does is featherbed the ultimate answer, wasting time in the process. It can extend discussions far beyond what should be their natural courses.

But “no” can be delivered politely. It can be done with empathy, and even, in many cases, with alternatives. And it can, in a moment, get you to the root of the thing, without going through a set piece of conversation to wheedle out of having to be direct. It can be an enormous time-saver.

Even today, I know I could be better, more consistant, about embracing the clarifying power of “no.” But if this is something you struggle with, consider Godin’s message: “no” is a boundary-setting device, and, more often than not, a feature rather than a bug.  

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