No One Nos: Learning to Say No to Bad Ideas

by Whitney Hess

39 Reader Comments

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  1. As I can understand, the main sence of this article is somehow similar to the meaning of “assertiveness”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assertiveness .
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  2. I hope you liked my title. It’s a very well written article. I agree and understand where a lot of the opinions are coming from. I think I work in an environment where “no” is totally discouraged and the corporate mentality over rules any creative input. It’s sad but that’s job security for you. I think a lot of it has to do with people hearing “Yes mam and yes sir” so much they forget how to respond to “no.” However, I do use “no” a lot on my freelance work (after hours). It feels good. I especially liked the bullets: “Present the facts and let the other draw their own conclusions.” and “As you close one door, open another.” I try to have a solution for anything I turn down or disagree with to keep things moving. Presenting the facts is a huge part of that. Thank you for the article, I enjoyed it and I’m glad someone out there has the power to use the word a lot.
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  3. I’m an in-house designer, so my surroundings are a bit more corporate than freelancers or agencies. However, from my very first interview I was told that “‘No,’ is an acceptable answer.’” This has stuck with me, and it’s very evident here that those who live by that and respond positively to that move up and grow within the company. Great principle to live by, and some very solid fundamentals for applying to achieve positive results. Thanks Whitney!
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  4. This is an important topic, Not only for successful project management but career management as well. As “designers,” we tend to focus on problems and solutions while ignoring the problem of selling our solutions. This often happens within the minefield of corporate politics. As communication experts, it’s important to craft an effective, personable style that transcends politics. Always be prepared to make your case with logic, data and precedent. Delivered with sincerity, conviction sells. I routinely practice many of these strategies — pricing myself out, leading others to their own conclusion, etc. — Sometimes it doesn’t work out, but more often than not it leads to successful projects and relationships that will enhance your career. Great topic. Great article. Thanks - db
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  5. Thank you for this article. I’ve recently come into my own in saying ‘no’ - forced to learn by client situations. I think it is as valuable to give yourself permission to say no as much as anything else. If you can remove yourself from the pressure and dependency that you talked about, it allows decision making, and ultimately the work you do, to be much better. Doing excellent things often requires a ‘no’ to less excellent things. Thanks again.
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  6. Thank you for this article. I’ve recently come into my own in saying ‘no’ - forced to learn by client situations. I think it is as valuable to give yourself permission to say no as much as anything else. If you can remove yourself from the pressure and dependency that you talked about, it allows decision making, and ultimately the work you do, to be much better. Doing excellent things often requires a ‘no’ to less excellent things. Thanks again.
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  7. Great article, really like the bit about not treating people as dumb just becuase they dont understand you. You might want to read “How to lose friends and infuriate people”
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  8. Excellent article. After many years in the design field I have learnt to say no, because I want to provide the best solution (which may not always be what the client asked for). The client will always thank you in the end, but it does mean you have to have the courage of your conviction. That takes experience. It’s as much about questioning assumptions as anything else. I like the quote about listening and speaking in proportion. You have to listen, ask questions, and be open minded. Reminds me of another favourite quote: “The mind is like a parachute. It only functions when it’s open”.
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  9. If I were to write the article myself, I would probably not have put it this nicely, though I share the exact same thoughts. Great job. Thanks for this. Ravi Balla
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  10. I’ve had quite a number of time-wasting enquiries recently. I think the economic downturn has driven a few hopeless cases into thinking they can launch any old business idea and make a fortune! These people often come in wanting something that is either going to end up costing me money in wasted time or drag down the standards of the work we output. Luckily, I can tell these a mile off now and often employ the high pricing model (so at least if they do say yes then it will be worth it!), or bashing out a fast outline quote to get a sense if they are interested first. Better that, than wasting hours on a full blown proposal only for them to drop off the face of the earth.
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  11. I’d gotten into the bad habit of clicking to ALA articles, lightly skimming through them, and then moving on to what I thought were more pressing things. With this latest issue I was determined to break that pattern and was rewarded tenfold by reading this article, full of fantastic examples and useful links. Really, really good stuff—including Kevin Cornell’s illustration, which I would suggest should be turned into some sort of case study for illustrations.
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  12. Kevin Cornell’s illustrations are often examples of perfection in what illustration should do; extend the meaning of an article, away from the literalness and act as a counterpoint to the main proposition. This NO is one more time a marvel of precision. Bravo for the article, text and image.
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  13. Thanks for a great read (and I also liked your post about this article on your blog).  I’ve used the Yes! No. Yes? approach and it works well.
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  14. Whitney, I’ve only just discovered you and I think you’re a genius.  “No” is my favorite word, but your tips and explanations make everything so much more palatable. And CogTool?! Where has that been all my life?! I’m going to use it TONIGHT to test some options so I can make some points in a meeting this week!!  Thank you!
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  15. It is such hard work (re-) learning how to say no. This article could easily apply to so many aspects of life at large. Great job.
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  16. I’m so glad you enjoyed the article, and yes, CogTool is amazing! It was developed by Bonnie John, the former head of the Master of Human Computer Interaction program at Carnegie Mellon (my alma mater), and her fantastic team. It’s seen as an academic tool, not often used by practitioners, but I think it rocks.
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  17. I could not agree with you more. When I saw Kevin’s illustration for the first time (when this was published yesterday), I actually cried. He encapsulated my message so precisely, it was shockingly awesome.
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  18. So glad you slowed down with this one. Really thrilled that you felt it was worthy of your time. Thank you!
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  19. Yes, very witty comment subject! So glad you enjoyed the article, and the structure I presented it in. Now go make good use of it.
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  20. You are very fortunate to work in an organization that values No, and I’m guessing is a lot better off for it.
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  21. I hadn’t heard of that one before, I’ll definitely go check it out. Thanks!
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  22. Could just be the way this was written, but it’s interesting that the one field quick signup form was arbitrarily cited as best practice, which may not be the case depending on the client’s goals. That situation should’ve been handled with “Data Reigns”. What if there was a business case for getting more information?  Maybe ease of segmentation and followup for better marketing and sales/lead conversion? The true best practice in that situation is “let’s test it out and see what works best (based on your business goals)”.
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  23. I agree with the above commenter in that saying no takes practice. If you can, try saying no to subordinates first so you can gauge their reaction. Then you can move on to your Chief Exec…
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  24. I’ve never had a problem when it comes to saying ‘no’ regarding “web design”:http://www.machinwebdesign.co.uk. Furthermore clients I have worked with have often responded, well, positively to me saying it.  I think when they hear a designer essentially saying “I dont want to do that - so much so that I dont want your money” it rings alarm bells with them - “It must be a bad idea if they don’t want the job”.  Of course the designer back it up with constructive and supporting criticism else you risk just coming across as having a creative hissy fit.
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  25. I’d say it’s often the case that your input really is valid; however, it’s all in how you say it. If you can give them the whole picture view, then show how your point fits in, then you’ve given them the benefit of your input. What they do with it after that is another question. They may be wrong; on the other hand, they may have some point that changes the whole scenario. In either case, I’d say it’s not just all about being right, or validated as being right ... it’s about doing the right thing.
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  26. I’m fairly new to freelancing, and have yet to build up the sort of reputation that clients will automatically listen to. There are a plethora of really good designers out there, some of them too geographically close for comfort (I’m looking at you, “Mark Boulton”:http://www.markboultondesign.com/ ). I’ve had both good clients (“you’re the expert”) and bad ones (“I don’t like that font, it looks too wimpy. Change it to Tahoma.”) Saying no is a valuable skill that will protect the standard of work produced and reduce time spent catering to nightmare clients.
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  27. I’ve often found that oftentimes it is not about saying “yes” or “no” but instead being able to take a step back and reframe the problem. Clients may tend to focus on the solutions (e.g. I want that to be purple instead of black) and a simple “yes” will create a jumbled mess of an end product while a “no” will create an unhappy client. The approach has therefore been to take a step back and ask them what the problem is (e.g. the color black looks too morbid) and then let the experts like graphic design figure out the best solution.
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  28. Being in the design field myself i find this issue often. I find if you disagree with your clients change they do take your opinion onboard. At the end of the day they are paying you for your knowledge in design, you wouldnt change something on someone building you a plane would you?
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  29. My experience has been that analytics data is the easiest way to back up a “No.”  For example, I knew this homepage we had designed (which has subsequently been jammed full of extraneous content over the course of a year) had SO many elements that weren’t getting clicked, but without proof we decided to allow the client free reign and wait before putting our collective foot down. When it came time to apply new branding to the site, we used the overwhelming amount of unclicked links (supported by our analytics data) to say “No” to the huge laundry list of requests for the homepage.  The best part was there was no argument, no battle of opinions or conflicting “I thinks”.  It was all right there. Great article on the importance of pushing back on clients.  Also, I really enjoyed your talk at AEA Minneapolis.
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  30. I can tell within the first 20 seconds of the conversation if the project is a no go on my end.  Saying no is a thousand times better than saying yes and having a client from hell with a project from hell.
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  31. As I looked for what would be my “must read” of the morning, I came across your article. (A ritual I recently began as part of my daily work day.) Reading through the different case vignettes, it got me to thinking about when not saying No has caused issues for me in my business. I have no problems (or hesitation) saying No when a client requests a design or feature that is not in their best interests. However, where I do have problems with No is when schedules are discussed. In general, I run about a 4-6 week start time from the point a contract is signed off and I can roll-up-my-sleeves and dig into the project. However, we all know that usually when a client reaches out to do a project they are ready to start RIGHT AWAY. That usually leads to “negotiating” time for both the start time and incremental milestones. In good conscious, as days as trimmed here or there, I optimistically believe, “Yes. We can do this.” In reality, it usually doesn’t happen. In some cases, it turns out even the original schedule was overly optimistic. The end result is that the client is disappointed (in many cases), and worse, I am disappointed at myself for allowing it to happen. As you point out in your article it IS hard to say no. We are conditioned to “get along” with each other. To make each other happy. To avoid distress. In the end, we pay the price, even if it was conscientiously done with the best of intentions. With that I need to sign off so that I can go work on the proposal that was due to a prospect two days ago, and the wireframes on two other projects that are past due. :-S
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  32. Over the early weeks in helping with/investing in a movie project, I spotted some serious flaws.  In talking yesterday with the filmmakers and citing my concerns, inching toward my intention of removing myself from the film going forward, we had almost a group epiphany as I leveled with them.  And then we came up with the glue that holds the film’s narrative arc together and gives it its marketing appeal. It was the use of the Creative ‘No.’
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  33. Or put another way, saying “No” and giving good reasons why (plus possible alternatives), shows a client that you a) know what you’re talking about and b) really care about the success of their website.
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  34. I hear you on this. Sometimes out of fear of losing a gig, we say Yes to an unrealistic schedule. But the reality is that you’re doing both yourself and the client a major disservice in the long run. When you start is typically less critical than when you end, and being honest and realistic throughout the process will help ensure that you meet that final deadline. Ultimately it’s about setting expectations well, and then following through.
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  35. That’s a great example. “Group epiphanies” as you called them are created, not happened upon. By making the client a partner, and clearly defining the problem *together*, you can devise a solution together. Making them feel like they were a part of the decision making process is really the ultimate goal. Nice work!
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  36. I can appreciate you wanting to dissect the case study, since that’s something I’d probably do, too. I had to limit the full story to just a few words, so I’m gonna ask you to trust that this was a situation in which citing best practices were most appropriate. I’m sure we’ve all faced a similar scenario.
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  37. Couldn’t agree with you more! Oh how I wish I trusted my gut more in the past. Getting much better at it now.
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  38. I heard this in the movie Troy “Imagine a King fighting his own battles? wouldn’t that be a sight” said by Brad Pitt before he fights against the Australian giant Nathan Jones with one swing of his sword. Amen to that! Its not the kings who win battles and wars, its their men. If you are serving a King like Agamemnon you better take a step back or even fleet back! There is no honor in fighting for someone who is not worthy of fighting for!
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  39. Thanks for sharing Whitney. It is refreshing to hear someone that explains things so eloquently. I was able to say No to 3 ideas this week alone that left me holding a profit where I would have had a loss if I had said yes. Your advice is fantastic, and I am sure that you will be hired for many jobs that you may not even conceive right now You’re awesome! Sam
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