'No' is Guaranteed - Next Action Associates

“Not my circus, not my monkeys.”

Ever heard that one? It is one of my favourite linguistic imports.

If you are not familiar with it, it is the very visual Polish take on staying clear of problems that are not yours to solve, and for me it captures what might be a stressful situation in a manner that completely diffuses it with humour. I laughed when I heard it the first time, and still do when I think of it.

But it now has competition for my affections, as I learned another expression this past week, from Portuguese. Here it is:

“‘No’ is guaranteed”.

I didn’t quite understand it when I first heard it, but it has grown on me over the last few days.

What does it mean? Basically this: if you don’t ask, you can’t get. If you do ask, you might get a positive response, and you might not; if you don’t ask, ‘no’ is guaranteed.

When I look at things on my lists that are not getting done, week after week, this idea is definitely playing a role with some of them.

I think the expression resonated with me because I realised when I heard it that I’ve spent far too much of my career not asking for what I wanted, but hoping that friends, family or clients would work it out by reading my mind, or the runes, or their horoscopes.

As I think about it, I’m sort of trying to control the (potential) ‘no’ by not asking for the ‘yes’. Not smart, as I simply guarantee the ‘no’ by not asking. Mental.

Why would anyone do that? Well, on some level these next actions are uncomfortable to me. Some reasons for that:

  • Not wanting to ‘bother’ someone with my request
  • Thinking the timing isn’t optimal for a ‘yes’, but it might be better later
  • There may be others, but the bottom line is that I’ll experience the pain of rejection, either of myself or my idea.

The number of times I’ve not made clear what I wanted to happen – thereby guaranteeing my ‘no’ – are probably too numerous to capture even in a very long blog. In a big book even. I won’t go there, but with a recent success that highlights the madness.

With a senior client in a large international organisation I was making the error of assuming that since we were doing such great work and getting such great feedback in the UK, surely she’d introduce me to her peers in other markets. Unfortunately, she was not waking up each day with even an ounce of focus on ‘what might Ed want from me today?’. Not because we are not good friends, or due to any ill will. She simply had plenty of other challenges loaded onto her plate, and I was not being active enough about bringing my desire for introductions to her attention.

Finally, I wrote an e-mail, requesting a couple of introductions. It took me all of about four minutes to compose.

What happened? I had a response within 24 hours, connecting me to the head of learning in a major market where we could easily serve them.

Sound good? Well, yes, unless I tell you that that e-mail was on one of my lists for more months than I’m comfortable mentioning here.

I’m not sure who gave this definition of honesty to me, but it is one of the best I’ve heard about a particular aspect of telling the truth:

“Ask for what you want, then be prepared to negotiate”.

Too often, I realise now, I’ve spent way too much time in discussions with myself, and have denied the other party their right to a ‘no’.

So, take a look at your lists. Who are you not being honest with?

‘No’ is guaranteed….

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