How to Improve Performance by Saying No

by Janice Giannini

With a deep mastering at the intersection of IT and business strategy, consultant, board adviser and former C-suite executive, Janice has been harnessing the true power of IT for more than 30 years. An Executive and Board-level digital strategist at the intersection of risk and IT, she enhances competitive position through vision and equity with large-scale risk identification, quantification and mitigation in an ever-changing marketplace, generating long-term value for clients. She engages with senior executives and teams, particularly in complex businesses where misalignment is blocking their desired success, to develop and execute practical business strategies and plans. Clients have found her especially helpful when they recognize they must integrate an eagle's eye and worm's eye view in order to identify and remove obstacles. Janice has consistently taken on those challenges that others chose to run from. This typically involves those challenging times when failure is not an option and integrating business, technology and people changes must be accomplished simultaneously. As a result, many of her clients are complex organizations who won't settle for anything less than developing widespread professional competence.

Over the years, I have spoken with hundreds if not thousands of executives and leaders. The following topic arises more frequently than you might think.

"You know, we have these conversations and we just can't quite seem to come to closure. If they are not interested, just tell me no thanks. Then we can move on".

Ask yourself the following two questions: "Has this ever happened to me"? "Do I do this too"? If the response is yes, then consider there might be a more effective way to handle the interaction.

Here's an example. The actual example is far less significant than the time spent in your head dealing with the scenario.

How many times have you called someone, and they did not return the call? What played-out in your head?

  • Well, it was a cold call, and they don't know me
  • They are just too busy now
  • They don't want to be bombarded by telephone calls and don't really want my services anyway
  • I need to get over it and move on

Now suppose I change the scenario. They had initially called you. Now, you are calling back to follow up as they had committed to get back to you. Now what plays in your head?

  • They are busy and forgot
  • Maybe they are waiting for input from somebody else before they call me
  • They are rude
  • They may not be interested
  • They are not interested and can't say "No thank you".
  • I need to get over it and move on

Consider how many times you have had conversations with a person to determine if there was sufficient interest to move forward. When you determine there really isn't enough reason to move forward, how often do you call the person and just let them know that? How often do we avoid the call because we are uncomfortable saying the word "No"?

Why does it matter what you do? It matters because when you choose to avoid saying "No thank you" - you are leaving a lot of personal and organizational productivity on the table.

Seems like a big leap? Well I invite you to consider the following intended and unintended consequences of that one simple action.

  • How much time did you think about saying "No thank you" before you decided to avoid the conversation?
  • When the person is persistent, how many times do you need to "continue to avoid them"?
  • How much does avoiding closure waste your energy and focus?
  • How much might it defocus others around you?
  • How much confusion is caused by leaving the conversation "open"?
  • If everyone simply knew the answer was "No", how could they productively spend their energies?

Allocate time to each of these questions above then multiply by dollars per hour and by the number of people impacted. What does that dollar figure look like? As former Senator Everett Dirksen once quipped, "A Billion here and a Billion there and before you know it adds up to real money."


  • What is stopping you from simply saying "No."?
  • How big does that number need to be before you'll change your behavior?
  • When will you commit to getting all your people focused and productive and no longer playing a waiting game?