Speaking your mind and saying no have been constant frustration points for women in business. Gay Gaddis knows this from her work helping women grow as leaders and in building her company, T3, into one of the country’s most innovative digital agencies. In Gay’s view, when women get comfortable with debate and voicing opinions, they gain competence and confidence. That confidence kicks in when the best answer is “no.” Gay’s just-released book, Cowgirl Power, is a field guide to help women find inner power to kick ass in business and life. An excerpt from her book follows:
Having a strong point of view demonstrates your competence, that you have thought things through. I know a lot of women who are not comfortable around conflict. They just don’t like it. But properly managed conflict is invaluable and something most women need to be more comfortable with because it forces you articulate your personal values and beliefs.
I watch my three Border collies at a ranch I have in the Texas Hill Country. Several times a day they tie into one another. It is a very aggressive form of play and usually stops short of drawing blood. They grab each other around the neck, knock each other down, growl and snarl at each other. It is the most natural thing in the world, because they are practicing their aggressive skills for a time when they need to make a kill or defend themselves. It keeps their skills honed. And strangely enough, it is most likely to happen when we are on a conference call at the ranch because they are spoiled and want our full attention.
People need the same exercise, maybe with less teeth. I admire people with strong points of view. I do not have to agree with them, but I respect someone who has done the mental gymnastics to form a strong opinion and that usually means debating the pros and cons of issues.
Too often, women shy away from debates and it is a mistake. Force yourself to verbally argue out an issue. It is the only way to form strong opinions. If you cannot take a challenge, you probably have not thought through an issue or done your homework. I learned a lot about points of view because back in my high school debate classes I had to argue from one point of view and then turn right around and argue from the opposite perspective. Debate, and then you will be ready to have a strong point of view that people will want to hear.
The Roman Catholic Church understood this when they appointed a “devil’s advocate” to present arguments against a proposed beatification or canonization. They were worried that they had too many yes-men making important decisions.
Find someone to argue with. Be challenged. Be okay being uncomfortable. It is an amazing confidence builder that gives you assertiveness to apply to other situations. Having the muscle memory to express your views makes it easier in situations when you need to say “no.”
This hit home for me when I heard Ann Moore, former Chairman and CEO of Time Inc., give a speech using this Nelson Mandela quote: “‘No’ is a complete sentence.” I’ve carried that with me for years.
“No” empowers you. “No” allows you to laser focus in on what is important. “No” simplifies your life. We apply it across our business and it is a powerful expression of a culture that values our people above all else.
A quick story. In 2000, Austin was full of internet start-ups rich with venture money. They clamored to our office all claiming to have a $12 million budget and demanding that we get their ads placed in the Super Bowl -- even though it had been sold out for months. We had so many coming and going that we could not get any real work done. We told all but one of them “no.” And the one we did take was a mistake. But my CFO and I got tougher than nickel steaks and we collected every dime they owed us. It took months, but we prevailed with persistence.
Small clients without vision and adequate budgets soon make you feel like you are being nibbled to death by ducks. We say no to nine out of ten client inquiries we get. We have developed a 10-point new business filter that has been in place for years. We go through the checklist every time a new opportunity presents itself. The first question we ask ourselves is whether we would want to work for the company. A “no” immediately ends the conversation.
“No” applies to requests made to individuals, as well. It may be a new project added on top of a full plate or assistance on an emergency effort that diverts you from planned work. This can be difficult for women who want to help out even though they may be drowning with equally important commitments. Often, the best answer is “no.” Don’t give long reasons and excuses. It weakens your power. Just say “no.”
When life gets complicated, stop and prioritize what the most important things are that you do. Look at the bottom third of the list and see what you can cut and where you can say “no.” It is so easy to get overcommitted. It pulls you away from where you need to focus.
Speak your mind; your perspective is invaluable. Get in there and debate; your comfort level and confidence will grow. Remember “no” is a complete sentence; your ability to focus on the right things empowers you to do amazing things.