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Being OK with No

Updated: May 15


How “No” Can Open The Door to a Better “Yes”




Are you gifted at reading minds? I wish I was.

Although this would be an incredible superpower, I’m yet to meet someone who actually can.

So why is it that I still catch myself believing that I know what someone is thinking? Especially when I really want them to hear “yes”, and I’m worried that they might say “no”? I can be so certain that they’re going to say no, even before I’ve given them a chance to say yes.

I know why. It’s because I’m not a robot. I’m human, and it’s natural for us to doubt ourselves sometimes. Especially when we’re pushing ourselves to achieve something big.

It’s OK for us to feel a bit of self-doubt every now and then, because it probably means we’re doing something that really matters. It’s just not OK if that feeling takes over and stops us chasing the things that we want, particularly if it stops us submitting the request at all.

These feelings usually arise when I’m stepping outside my comfort zone, making a request that feels big, and the person I’ve made the request to hasn't come back to me immediately. I get all up in my head and start creating a whole story about why they don’t want to say yes. Sometimes I can even feel regret that I even put the request forward in the first place.

If I’m being really honest, in those moments of regret, it’s probably because I don’t feel worthy of a yes. I start to believe that the request that I’ve made is unreasonable, or that they don’t want what I’ve offered, whether that’s related to my design practice, or my coaching business.

Maybe I’m reaching out to a new business contact, or following up on a marketing opportunity, or asking an iconic designer to be part of one of my programs. Sometimes, it’s when I’ve put forward a big fat design fee as part of my Design Proposal!

Does any of that sound familiar? If you’re being honest, yes it does!

I wanted to share a couple of examples of my recent (failed) mind reading attempts. I have so many more that I could share, but these are my two best ones of late.

MY MIND READING ATTEMPT #1

This year I reached out to the director of a prominent architecture practice in Melbourne. They’d produced the (magnificent) designs for a new build and I’d been engaged by the clients to develop some of the interiors and specify materials and fittings.

Part of my usual process is that I meet with the architects, and ensure that they know that I’m all about collaboration. It’s really important to me that they understand that I’m being respectful of their design intent and my aim is to add to, not detract from their overall vision, inline with the client's brief.

After a couple of weeks of no replies to my emails, phone calls or text messages, I started making up stories. Perhaps they were annoyed that I’ve been engaged. Maybe they didn’t feel that I’d do justice to their designs. And (I’m kind of embarrassed to admit this), what if they didn’t think I was good enough to work with them?

Now, I need to point out that I didn’t let these thoughts overwhelm me, or stop me from delivering a wonderful scheme for my clients. In fact, I knocked it out of the park! But that little voice was still there, sitting on my shoulder.

As it turns out, the little voice was wrong. I ended up hearing from the architect a few weeks into the project. He was delighted to work with me, had been following me on Instagram for a while, and when I shared my concepts he was incredibly positive and supportive of my ideas.

Mind Reading Attempt = FAILED

MY MIND READING ATTEMPT #2

One of the things that I am most proud of at The Design Coach are the collaborations I’ve managed to create with some of the country’s most respected and awarded designers.

We’ve been fortunate to work with Sam Eades (Mitchell & Eades), Brett Mickan (BMID), Mim Fanning (Mim Design), Paul Hecker and Hamish Guthrie (Hecker Guthrie), Hana Hakim (The Stella Collective), David Flack (Flack Studio), Thomas Hamel (Thomas Hamel & Associates), Amanda Henderson (Gloss Creative), Dylan Farrell (Dylan Farrell Design) and Andrew Parr (SJB).

I mean - WOW! What an incredible collection of Australian design talent. To this day, I’m still incredibly grateful for the generosity of these designers for their contribution to our offering at TDC. It still blows my mind that “little ol me” has managed to connect our members to these industry legends.

So why do I still have feelings of doubt when I approach designers to be part of our new programs? Why is that little voice still there, telling me that they’re going to say no?

Recently we launched our first ever Melbourne Design Conference, featuring a stellar line-up of guest speakers including Mim Fanning and Sarah-Jane Pyke, two of the country's most successful and revered designers. I knew I wanted these designers on board for the program, because they operate two of the most recognizable brands in the industry, and the theme for the conference is “Building a Brand”.

To get these busy business operators on board takes time, care and perseverance. I should know that by now, because I’ve been doing it for quite a few years! But it’s still a challenge to override the self-doubt that pops up when I don’t immediately hear back from my emails. The little voice in my head is warning me not to be annoying or inappropriate by being persistent.

In this case, my expert mind reading skills kicked into overdrive, and I invented all sorts of stories why these delightful women wouldn’t want to be involved! I won’t share those stories with you, but suffice it to say, once again, I didn’t allow the mind reading to stop me making the requests.

And thank the heavens, because once again, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that both of these beautiful humans are incredibly excited to come on board. They even went so far as to note that they were humbled to be invited (which speaks so much to the type of people they are). The real reason for their delayed reply to my invitations was that they are both running very VERY busy practices.

Mind Reading Attempt = FAILED

BEING OK WITH NO

Let me be clear: I know that it’s not easy to push through the stories, to override the self-doubt and to stop the mind reading.

While it’s awkward to share the truth that I still experience self-doubt, I am also aware of my ability to push through those feelings and still chase my dreams. A huge part of that skill is the fact that I’m actually OK with getting a “no”. This allows me to ask the big questions and to be a bit more persistent than my ego really wants me to be.

And it is absolutely a skill to push past the doubt - one that needs to be worked on over time.

I’m also not afraid to share that I’ve received countless rejections over the years. People of note have declined my invitations to be involved in TDC’s events, clients have said no to my Design Proposals, and many of my efforts to establish connections for business development haven’t been taken up.

A necessary part of being OK with no is to understand that it’s not personal. Everyone has stuff going on in their life and in their business. “No” doesn’t mean that you’re not good enough. It might just be because the timing isn’t right, or they have something going on in their personal life, or they don’t see a fit for them in what you’re proposing - and that’s OK.

In fact, this last option is one of the most important. When someone says no to your offer or proposal, it opens the door to another opportunity that can be (and most likely will be) a better fit and a more exciting opportunity.

So how do you get better at overriding your mind reading, and being OK with receiving a no?

Here I present 7 Tactics I’ve employed to help me push past my fear, step into courage and make some amazing shit happen in both of my businesses:

TACTIC #1: CATCH YOURSELF MIND READING

When you’re aware of the mind reading, you can do something about it.

Do you have the facts straight? Have you considered the (more rational) reasons why you might not have received a reply? Is this voice your Danger Patrol (see below) and is the danger real or perceived?

TACTIC #2: BE KIND TO YOUR LITTLE VOICE (YOUR DANGER PATROL)

It helps me to think of the voice of doubt as a version of myself (my ego) that’s always looking out for danger. This “mini me” is there for a purpose: to stop me getting hurt. I like to think of this voice as my Danger Patrol.

My Danger Patrol is trying his best to safeguard me against situations where I might experience rejection, humiliation or judgement. Rather than viewing this important part of my thinking as bad or wrong, it helps to understand that he’s trying to help.

From that place, I can then make a more measured decision to override the concerns of my Danger Patrol, and look at the facts with a more reasonable lens. It allows me to come from a place of courage rather than fear.

TACTIC #3: DON’T LET FEAR STOP YOU

Don’t let the fear of “no” stop you from making the request, especially if this feels outside your comfort zone. Courage can’t exist without fear. So a bit of fear is good.

Before making the request or submitting the proposal, it can help to think of the worst case scenario, in a constructive way, not in a fearful way. If you get a no, what would that mean practically? What are the other options you could pursue after the no?

TACTIC #4: ALLOW SPACE FOR NO

A big skill to develop is the ability to put forward a request in such a way that it provides space for the recipient to say no, without them feeling uncomfortable.

This doesn’t mean minimising yourself or diminishing the request you’re making (eg: “Oh, you probably won’t want to be involved in this silly thing that I’m doing…”), and you certainly don’t want to apologise for your fees or services (eg: “Look, I know my fees are really high…”).

The biggest part of allowing space for no is actually being OK with no in the first place. The person receiving the request will most likely sense that you’re OK with no, even if you don’t say it directly.

TACTIC #5: BE PERSISTENT (BUT NOT STALKERISH)

This takes intuition. There are no set rules about how much is too much.

My recommendation is that you indicate when you’re going to follow up again (eg: “If I don’t hear back from you today, I’ll check in at the end of the week.”) and also let the recipient of your request know when it’s the last time that you’re going to reach out (eg: “I’m just checking in with you one last time, and then I’ll assume that you’re not available/don’t want to proceed.”)

This last tactic was what eventually led to both Mim and Sarah-Jane coming back to my request to be part of the Melbourne Design Conference. When people are busy, and have a long list of priorities, sometimes our requests are filed at the bottom of the pile. When I politely let them know that I wouldn't bother them again after a final email, they both got back to me straight away.

TACTIC #6: MAKE IT EASY TO GET A YES

Provide directions that make it clear and easy for the recipient of your request to respond (eg: “If you could get back to me by email by the end of the week, that would be great.” Or “I’ll give you a call on Thursday to see if you’d like to proceed.”).

When it comes to presenting a Proposal to clients, create a process that helps make getting a yes easier. My preference is always to present in person or over Zoom, which enables you to get feedback on the spot and allows you to ask the important question: would you like to proceed?

If they need time to think, set a time and date that you’ll get back to them to answer questions.

TACTIC #7: BUILD RESILIENCE

What are you making the “no” mean?

A “no” doesn’t mean you failed, you’re not a good designer, or you’re too expensive. If you’ve created your fee via a logical process, and with consideration for the overall budget, you can present with confidence. If the client declines your proposal, it doesn’t mean you’re over-priced, even if you lose out to a designer who is cheaper!

When seeking new clients through business development, you might hear 9 “no”s for 1 “yes”. Focus on the yes, even before you get to hear it. If you’re consistently persistent, you will get the yes.

I’d never have achieved the things I’ve achieved in both of my businesses if I’d been put off by the perceived negative situations I’d concocted through my mind reading. Quite often we’re our own worst enemies, and feelings of self-doubt can result in self-sabotage. There’s nothing less appealing than a request that’s put forward as an apology rather than an opportunity.

Rather than being crippled by the fear of receiving a no, I invite you to embrace the unknown, and consider what it might look like with a yes, while at the same time being OK either way.

As always, I love hearing your own stories. And if you know someone who lets a fear of “no” get in the way too often, and would benefit from some of the tactics I’ve shared, make sure you share my newsletter with them.

Until next week.

Stay well, and always be kind.

Andrew

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