How do you say “no”?

Confidence is all in the delivery!

I’ve been pondering why some leaders come across as really confident and others come across as hesitant and uncertain. And I feel like I’ve gained some clarity that is worth sharing.

Yesterday morning, as I was driving to my first client meeting, I realised I’d forgotten my shoes. Like many women who forsake comfort in place of style I wear high heels that kill my feet if they’re worn the whole day. So, I’ll wear a comfortable pair during the commute, in the winter I wear my ugg boots (which feel like a never-ending foot cuddle) and in the summer I wear thongs (flip-flops or jandals depending on where you’re from). Yesterday I was wearing thongs, appropriate for driving but definitely not a shoe I’d be proud or confident to wear in front of clients. 

By the time I realised I had driven too far to turn back, so I was looking at the possibility of spending the whole day in thongs. I had a calendar packed full of meetings and some with new clients who were in need of a good ‘first impression’. Wearing my thongs was not going to cut it. Fortunately, traffic was well behaved and I made it to my first meeting early so I took the opportunity to duck into a shoe store to buy an emergency pair of shoes. When I entered the store I quickly asked the attendant for help to find a pair of shoes that would match my outfit and gave a brief description of the style I was looking for. The store lady was lovely and extremely helpful. She organised the shoes in under five minutes and I headed to the counter to pay. 

When I was paying for the shoes the attendant asked me if I’d like the box for the shoes to go in. Without hesitation I said “no”. Not “no thank you” or “nah” or “hmm I don’t think so” – it was a straight out “no”. Because of the speed of the transaction and the rapport I had built with her she didn’t take any offence to my one-word reply but she also didn’t question the confidence in my answer. Without saying another word, she put the shoe box aside and finalised my payment. I thanked her for her help and wished her a good day before rushing to my meeting.

As I left the store I reflected on my use of the word “no”. I wondered if I had answered differently whether the attendant would have challenged my response with an “are you sure?” or “what about for the thongs you’re wearing?”. 

The way we respond to questions matters. If we’re trying to create assurance and belief then we would answer with conviction and directness, for example “yes” or “no”. 

Let’s say someone in your team is asking for approval to do something that is out of alignment with your business values, like delivering work that doesn’t’ meet your normal standards. You would answer with a direct “no” then follow it up with a gentler conversation around aligning to values and delivering on your customer promise. 

In contrast, if we’re wanting to open up creativity and deeper thinking, then we would answer with hesitation and uncertainty, for example “maybe” or “hmmm, I’m not sure”. By approaching the conversation softly you can encourage others to feel safe to share and experiment with ideas. In this instance staff are more likely to contribute ideas and suggestions and work towards a better outcome. 

To increase your confidence, as a leader, it may be helpful to become aware of the approach you’re taking in different contexts and consider if it’s the best option. If not, change your approach and how directly or hesitantly you answer questions and see if it makes a difference to your outcome.

It’s not a big action to take but it could be the thing that makes all the difference!

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