Getting better at saying No’s

As part of a rapidly moving company, we are shipping and scaling rapidly. A good byproduct is the exponential growth in the number of requests we need to deal with. Since it’s mentally and physically demanding to keep up with everything, we need to deny many requests.

Personally, I know its a critical part of my job but I find saying No very difficult. Every “no” adds to my anxiety — a waiting customer, an impatient sales-pro, a bug that lives another day, a worried CS advocate etc. I’m super passionate and driven about our product’s growth, and each of these ‘No’-driven-additions take an emotional toll on me.

To get better at saying Nos, I’ve tried to trick by brain into following a system of saying Nos. A good “no” needs to have empathy, honesty, alternatives and re-assurance, and having the following structure helps me be consistent with them :

  1. Empathy — to confirm I acknowledge that the ask is heard and is important
  2. Rationale — to be transparent why I cannot act on this request right now
  3. Temporality — A honest and very accurate time-frame when I can act on it
  4. Alternative — to unblock the requestor if there exists a workaround I can offer

Couple of examples

Example 1 — A rare bug that’s blocked a customer from signing in

That’s a bad bug and I’m sorry they are facing this. They have a weird chrome extension that has been behaving weirdly for a few customers. The impact is low based on the data we have seen and we probably won’t have the bandwidth to tackle this until the third week of June. However can we check if the user is ok disabling this extension or trying a different browser?

Example 2 — Custom feature ask by new user we cannot work on

I can totally understand where they are coming from, and this will probably make onboarding much faster for them. But our team is heads down launching faster checkout and cleaning up some critical performance improvements for the next few sprints. Let’s revisit this in three weeks. In the meantime, lets partner and do this manually to move them faster

Feedback welcome, thanks for reading.

I love drawing connections from different subjects in a hope to simplify the world of product management. https://www.linkedin.com/in/adityarsmishra/