NoIt’s a challenging and rewarding job being a consultant. We get the privilege of helping our clients in identifying and developing solutions to their problems. We are trusted by our clients to do the right thing by them. And there are occasions when the right thing is saying ‘No’ to things we are not able to achieve or help them with.

It’s hard for a lot of people to say ‘No’; we may be afraid of appearing unhelpful, feeling guilty, not being liked… Perhaps we’re worried we might offend someone.

However, if we say ‘Yes’ to things that we shouldn’t, we run the risk of becoming stressed, producing poor quality work, not delivering in line with client expectations… this in turn may lead to loss of reputation, delivery issues or general client dissatisfaction. Surely this is far less desirable than having said ‘No’ to start with!

So, how do we approach this? Here are some helpful tips:

  • Understand the specific situation, ask questions to clarify expectations.
  • Use positive and solutions orientated language; ‘We’d be pleased to discuss how we might be able to help…’
  • Don’t use ‘We can’t / won’t / impossible…’  Focus more on what are the challenges and how we might address them.
  • Re-state / clarify your understanding of the objectives the client is looking to achieve.
  • Empathise and align with the situation; ‘I understand your need to move quickly for the following reason…’
  • Explain why the request is not appropriate or why we are not the best organisation to assist with this.
  • Offer an alternative approach. ‘We would love to help, but unfortunately we are at capacity for the next week. We are able to help then, if it can wait until that time. Alternatively [recommend person] may be able to help if it is critical to deliver this week…’

Obviously we want clients that are satisfied with what we deliver, and we will go out of our way to make sure that happens. But in the odd situation where we can’t deliver an outstanding service or product, it is absolutely ok to let somebody know that in this case! As a client I would much rather be dealing with an honest consultant who I trust to deliver outstanding results consistently than one who will take up anything I ask but be inconsistent in their quality or delivery and not meet my expectations. The bonus is that once clients learn they can trust you in this space; that they know they will always get the best possible service when dealing with you, often they will be flexible in their requests in order to use you personally. It’s all about developing trusting relationships with your clients which benefit both parties! 

So next time you are faced with a request, consider the impact of saying ‘Yes’ to requests you aren’t able to deliver real quality on before answering!

We’ve also written a previous blog ‘Trust = Speed’ – this is not only relevant within organisations but also with clients!