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It’s Always Better to Say “No” Than to Say Nothing

June 7, 2010

“Everybody thinks they have good taste and a sense of humor but they couldn’t possibly all have good taste.”

This is the most underappreciated quote from When Harry Met Sally, one of arguably the most quotable movies of all time. It’s filled with gems, but because of Carrie Fisher’s impeccable delivery of this line, it’s always stuck with me. It could also be because the words “good taste” and “humor” are so interchangeable with many other things.

No one thinks they’re unreliable or the type of person who can’t be counted on, and yet, many people are just that. And in denial about it.

I wish it were possible to tell in advance that a person is or is not reliable. Unfortunately, this information can only be gleaned through interaction, and by the time you’ve figured it out, it’s too late. You’re in a pickle, or you’re at the very least frustrated or wondering, “didn’t we have a call scheduled for ten minutes ago?”

I know it sucks to disappoint people, to tell them, “No.” It can be downright uncomfortable to be on the other end of someone’s, um, frowny face. But next time you’re contemplating not sending that follow-up email declining someone’s request for your help, or screening the call of the person you’ve been working with on a big project that you’ve decided you no longer want to work on, consider this: the person who would have been perhaps a bit disappointed in your response is now pissed off and thinks you’re a flake. Once you’ve been labeled “flaky” it’s hard to go back. Plus, you know what’s really going to be awkward? That first time we see each other after you’ve stopped responding to phone calls and emails.

I had the chance to interview Jeffrey Hayzlett last week, and he told me that the most important thing you can do in business is to be the no bullshit, do-what-you say kind of person who always follows through. It’s not just me who thinks this is important; if you read leadership books, you’ll find this to be a common theme.

This is a bad habit that can be broken, but you first have to determine your motivations; why aren’t you following through? Fear? Laziness? Once you’ve recognized why, you can more easily ignore the urge to avoid tackling things, even difficult things, head-on.

Face the music, the world won’t end. People (not just me, people) appreciate a straight answer. They will respect you more; they will more often help you when you need help too. I promise you, the alternative is worse.

* This post is dedicated to Mitch Cohen, whose help I really appreciate.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 7, 2010 2:47 pm

    Such good points.

    • Esther Steinfeld permalink*
      June 16, 2010 10:59 am

      Thanks Maria 🙂

  2. June 24, 2010 6:49 am

    Wow thank you so much, what an honor! Regardless – it was my pleasure. Cheers!

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