The sun has barely risen and my daughter is peering out of the patio doors staring intently at the dewy garden beyond. Both hope and concern are etched on her face and I am thrown forward ten years imagining how she will look the day her first date is due to call, that equal measure of uncontained excitement and resignation that she is most probably getting her hopes up too high. She sighs, she looks out the window again, squints, then gives another sigh. ‘What are you looking for?’ I ask her. ‘It’s my wish. I am looking to see if it has arrived yet.’ She is talking about the lucky penny she found on the pavement yesterday, the same penny that I told her held magical powers and could make any wish come true if it were thrown into a fountain. Of course she found a fountain, and of course she made a wish, and now I have very loud voices screaming in my head. Oh God, why oh why did I say her wish would come true? Stupid stupid mummy! ‘Well what did you ask for?’ I ask tentatively, expecting the August sunshine to miraculously turn to snow, or for the entire cast of a Disney Princess film to waltz down the garden path. ‘A kitten. I wished for a tiny kitten,’ she whispers, all too aware that the power of a wish dissipates the moment it is uttered aloud. ‘You said if I made a wish it would happen. You promised me!’
It’s at this point that I am reminded of two things. Firstly, that all mothers will do anything to bring joy and wonder into the lives of their offspring, without giving any thought to the consequences of life that will (very quickly) come crashing down on to their already sagging mummy shoulders. And secondly, that in business, as much as in everyday life, it is of the upmost important that one must always, without doubt or exception, no matter with whom they are speaking or whatever the circumstances, must always always always realistically manage a person’s expectations. Luckily for me I will probably find a kitten in time for Christmas, stick a bow around its neck and hey presto – the lucky penny worked. But what do you do when you promise the earth to a client and then run out of luck?
For decades salespeople have been taught to say Yes. Before a client has even asked the question the answer is always Yes. No matter what poor team, department or company has to then make the impossible happen because the sale has been made, the contract signed and the money coughed up - a salesperson will always continue to say Yes. Well now it’s time to say…errr…NO!
No is the new Yes. Or more to the point – honesty, integrity, respect and a firm grasp on reality is the best way to approach business. No one likes a bullshitter and no one likes to be given false hope (except maybe my five year old, who’s still staring out of the window). In the world of business, both as an employee and within my own company, I have discovered that no good comes from giving the client (or your boss for that matter) a big 'yes, of course, right away' if you know it can’t be done. The problem is that I am a people pleaser. There, I said it. I hate to disappoint, I want to appear ever willing and ever able and I like to make people happy. Damn it, I want to save the day! But what’s worse? Saying Yes and then having to explain why you were just being nice (or greedy) and that actually it’s not really going to happen; or saying, ‘sorry that isn’t possible in that timeframe’, or ‘I would love to work on that project, but not to that budget and not until next month’? Remember that a client has come to you, dream in hand, because you are the expert and they can’t do it themselves. They may think they know what they want and by when, but only you know what they actually need and the process and time involved to make it happen.
So don’t fear saying No. If you can’t do what somebody needs of you, then tell them what you can do or explain why their request is unrealistic. They won’t hate you, they won’t think any less of you. In fact they may even realise you know what you are talking about and see you for the trustworthy expert that you are! Because when you fill someone’s mind full of magic and wonder, hope and fantasy, and promise them anything their creative heart desires – what you are really giving them is a tiny moment of pleasure, then committing them to a lifetime of staring forlornly out of steamed up windows waiting for the impossible. And believe me, no matter how good your intentions are, you can’t make fluffy magic kittens appear out of thin air.