Often in business we want to seem as agreeable as possible with clients in order to keep breaking even. It’s certainly not the worst tactic in the world, but down the line it can cause significant problems. If you’re having trouble saying “no” to clients, you might learn a thing or two from what have come to be known in the academic circles as “politeness principles”.
A celebrity in academic circles, language philosopher Paul Grice believed that all human communication came down to each party in a discursive exchange adhering to two factors: “positive face” and “negative face”.
It’s a lot more simple than it sounds; someone appeals to their own positive face by essentially trying to look good in front of the other person (being complimentary, polite, appearing humble) while trying to strike a balance with their negative face (basically showing that you’re not a pushover; standing up for yourself). Essentially, being assertive is about striking the balance between saying “yes” and saying “no”.
Learning to Say “No”
Sometimes you just can’t bring yourself to say “no” to a client, even when it is obvious that you should. You need to become more future-thinking. For example, if a client suggests an idea for a campaign that you know from experience just won’t work, it might be tempting to just say yes to keep the client happy for a few months. In reality, this will backfire down the line when the client doesn’t see the results you promised them; suddenly, the client’s bad idea becomes your error because you gave it the go-ahead. Short-term client satisfaction isn’t worth the backlash.
Valuing your time is also essential. Estimating your hours accurately is difficult to do when you’re trying to find a way to keep all of your clients happy at once. If you overestimate how quickly you can work, you’ll take on too many projects which will only reduce the quality of your work across the board. Better one unhappy client than all of them.
Keeping Them Keen
Let’s get one thing straight: being assertive is not the same as being aggressive. If you’re coming across as too negative, the client is likely to be put off altogether.
Keeping a client interested is as simple as offering an alternative solution. Don’t apologise; assure the client that you’ll do things in a different way from now on. You can offer a deferral of work, for example, meaning that you’ll take on their contract when you are undertaking fewer contracts. Similarly, you might want to only invest half the proposed time per week into a project, but for twice as long. That way the client will still get results, even if they have to be a little more patient to see them.
By saying “no” when it needs to be said, you let your clients know that you are confident in your understanding of your abilities, and that you value your time. People like doing business with people they respect.
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