September 7, 2015

How to Stop Saying a Yes You’ll Regret

black eyed susan's decorativeWe have all had it happen to us. You receive an unexpected call. Or, someone catches you at the door, “Please, will you do this?” And we say yes. But afterwards we wish we’d said no. Business owners may be especially vulnerable to pop-up requests from people asking on behalf of nonprofit causes. After all, you like the requester and the cause well enough. And while the support probably won’t help your business, it probably won’t hurt it.

But it does hurt. Your “yes” means that you will have less to invest—your time and your money—on projects that align more closely with your business goals tomorrow.

Since it happened before, it will happen again. Like Ulysses who knows he must pass by the Sirens, what pact can you make with yourself so you won’t agree to commitments you regret later? How can you tie yourself to the mast, so to speak?

You might say, “no” to everything. However, this means that you’ll miss out on helpful opportunities. It’s like putting wax in your ears.

You might ask everyone to, “Send it to me in writing.” This buys refection time, but creates future work for you and the requestor.

Or in advance you can establish criteria. Base these on your goals and needs. When you receive unexpected requests, promise yourself to use your criteria to separate the wheat, opportunities you want, from the chaff, those you’ll regret. For everything else, consider saying, “Thank you. That probably won’t work for us.”

For instance Laura, a small business owner, quickly agreed to a short-term board assignment. Her criteria:

  • Opportunity to meet her potential customers.
  • Limited time, with an easy out at the term’s end.
  • Low-cost.

For unexpected requests, save your immediate yeses for opportunities you’ll embrace with enthusiasm tomorrow.



Karen Eber Davis

Karen Eber Davis provides customized advising and coaching around nonprofit strategy and board development. People leaders hire her to bring clarity to sticky situations, break through barriers that seem insurmountable, and align people for better futures. She is the author of 7 Nonprofit Income Streams and Let's Raise Nonprofit Millions Together.


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