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An Essential Skill for Consultants: How to Say No to Clients

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September 10, 2021
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4 minutes
Experienced copywriter who spends a lot of money at restaurants and regrets it later.

Whether it’s a request to go above and beyond the agreed-upon project scope or an offer for a new project, you, as a consultant, shouldn’t say yes to everything that your clients say.

Although it seems like a straightforward thing to do, many consultants struggle with saying no more often. The result: burnout, a lack of job satisfaction, stress, and underperformance.

If you want to climb the ladder and become the best consultant you can be, you will need to start saying no more frequently.

In this article, you’ll receive some valuable insights. So, without further ado, let’s begin.

Saying No More Often Is Good for Your Consulting Career

Robin Sharma, the famous author and self-help coach, said it right. If you want to become an important person, you’ll need to do important things, and to do important things, you’ll need to stop doing the unimportant ones.

Before you learn the art of saying no politely, you need to understand when it’s right to say no. That’s why you need to classify all your client's requests and demands into two categories: important and unimportant. This classification is the first step you need to take in order to get used to saying no more often.

You see, saying no politely is the easiest part, but analyzing clients’ requests and placing them into one of the two categories is more challenging.

Every time you say yes to something that is unimportant, you say no to something that is important. - Robin Sharma

Use Another Word, Phrase, or Term if You’re Afraid to Use the Word No

Just because this article is a discussion about saying no more regularly doesn’t mean you need to use the word “no” every time. The main idea is to refuse to do unimportant tasks so you can focus on the important ones that will skyrocket your career.

For this reason, if you’re still in the client relationship building process and are afraid that using a negative word could harm your connection with clients. You may use other words that imply the same meaning.

To understand this better, let’s role-play. Here’s an example:

Client: “Hey John, we have got some new data inputs. I know that you have already analyzed the previous data we sent you and are working on recommendations, but can you please analyze this new data as well?”

As you can see, the client is asking the consultant to put in extra hours without any extra payment, and they are also asking them to work on a phase of the project (data analysis) which has already been completed by the consultant.

Instead of saying no directly, the consultant could say: “Hey Chris, thanks, but I think the previous data was more than enough for me to create recommendations. I think going back to the data analysis phase again could delay the project, so I reckon we should continue moving forward with the next phases.”

Now, as you can see, there’s no use of the word “no” or any other negative word or phrase in the entire response. That’s what you should do if you do not feel like saying no directly.

Don’t Bite More Than You Can Chew

Throughout the process of client relationship building, you’ll come across a lot of propositions that may seem very exciting in the beginning. For example, a client may offer you a small side gig that requires you to work during the weekends for an entire month.

You could earn a lot of money working on this gig, and you may even think that you’d be able to work seven days a week for a month. After all, it’s just a month, right? Wrong! You risk over-exhausting yourself and even getting sick—which may bring a whole new set of problems that didn’t exist before, like taking sick leaves, not being productive enough at any project, and ruining your relationship with the client.

So, it’s not just the unimportant projects and requests you should avoid in your consulting career, sometimes, you need to say no to important opportunities, as well. No amount of money or opportunities is worth your physical and mental health.

Be Really Nice

You may read a lot of articles on the internet that advise you to be assertive, put your foot down, and reject a client’s request with dominance. Please, for the love of God, never do that. Your client is a human, too, and you have no idea what they are going through in their personal lives. Saying no politely is the only way to say no to a client without affecting the relationship negatively.

Client relationship building takes years to perfect, but you can wreck it all up with one angry email. In a professional relationship, being nice to one another goes a long way. Save your motivational speeches and care-free attitude for your friends and close ones. But when it comes to client communication, show the utmost respect while saying no.

Final Thoughts

Even though it seems counter-intuitive, saying no to some opportunities and requests is good for you as a consultant. First, you should determine whether a request or proposition warrants your input or not. If it’s a waste of time or energy, then you should probably reject it.

It’s understandable that saying no is not very easy every time. You always risk offending someone you say no to, and if that “someone” is an old client of yours, the stakes are even higher and the situation more challenging. In such cases, you could use positive, not negative, words to imply your decision.

Finally, throughout this whole process, it’s really crucial to be empathetic. Never forget that you’re dealing with humans after all.