Using the Word No with Clients

Using the Word No with Clients

No! At the very least, no gives us a definitive answer to a question, but more times than not, no brings a negative feeling. You probably heard your mom say “No you may not have a cookie!” when you were a kid. Your boss might tell you “No, you can’t take the 27th off.” No often shows a lack of permission and a shame for even asking. How dare we ask for something, be it a cookie or time off. Because of the natural negative context of no, it is very important that we are extremely careful to use the word “no” with clients.

Try not to be negative…

If a client asks for something, try your hardest to give a “positive” answer over a negative answer. This applies even in situations when no might be appropriate.

I remember a client of mine at a broadcasting station I worked at. This client wanted to run a taped program during a live slot. While this inherently was not a problem, the technology we worked with required we have the tape several days beforehand. This client made her request the day before the program aired. My response could have been “No, we’ll run something different.” I had every right to deny the request outright. Instead I said something to the effect of “let’s try to find another solution.”

After conversing with the client, the program she wanted aired was actually a repeat. I already had the pre-taped show she wanted to run on our servers, so there was no issue – the uploading of this program was no longer an obstacle. If I had said “no” initially, I would not have listened to my client to find a perfectly reasonable request. So both parties won by the solution approach to a question that could easily have been answered “no.”

Using the word no can mean yes.

Even if the answer is no, don’t say no right away!

A client came in and asked us if we could do something so outlandish, I won’t even try to explain the client’s request. Honestly, I still cannot wrap my head around what this client wanted, but his request was technologically impossible. Still, I didn’t say “no” right away. I said something like, “I don’t think we can do this, but we’ll look into it.” The client walked away, maybe not satisfied, but at least he knew we would do our best.

For due diligence, I asked IT about the request, and their immediate answer to me was no, that’s impossible. My follow up to the client was something like “we’re sorry, but we’re not able to fulfill this request.” In delaying the no, I at least gave the client the feeling of being heard. The client felt his request was important to us, even though I knew there was absolutely no way we could fulfill his outlandish request.

Using the word avoids confusion.
You want me to do what now?

When using the word no – be nice!

A client walked in with a few files on his phone. He asked if I could download these file from his phone, and I was like…”sure, why not?” Yeah – that was a mistake. His files (a video), was in the same folder as his camera media. Right next to his video, I saw a shot of this client’s bare rear end. The client sheepishly apologized, and I graciously accepted this apology – but this made me realize I needed a new policy and I needed it now! No touching of a client’s phone. Period.

My supervisor, gave her OK for the no cellphone media rule in seconds flat. When I updated our rules to reflect the no cellphone media rule, I found a bunch of “No” rules. In order to keep the privacy of my former employer, I won’t mention these rules – but I will say these rules sounded (unintentionally) very demeaning and derogatory to our clients. So, I rephrased all these “no” rules to include positive words such as “please.”

Inserting a simple “please” might downplay a rule from an urgent sounding command, to a simple request. However, this “please” policy made my former employer sound friendlier. The client receives a less authoritative feeling, but rather a friendly “favor.” Of course, using no with the word please certainly does not change the rule – we just portray the rule like “hey….please don’t do this, thanks so much!”

Using the word No is not nice!

Know when to be firm

There will of course be times when you need to be firm with your clients. Sometimes clients will go over the line, intentionally or unintentionally. Using a firm “no” in these cases can be acceptable.

I had a client who liked to play Youtube videos on his show without vetting the videos first. Sometimes this resulted in this client’s show containing inappropriate language. One day, I had a long talk with this client about this practice, and he promised to vett his programming from then on. That very night, I happened to monitor this client’s recording his show, and sure enough – he did not vett his programming. I walked into the control booth (which was something I never did) and told the client’s TD to open his channel. I then told the client (while he was still taping) “No, you cannot play that video on your show.”

This was a stand I needed to take, because the client obviously did not get the point. This was, of course, a last resort. There was nothing else I could do or say to this client at the time and I had to guard our channels. Thankfully the client understood.

Using the word No makes doesn't compromise firmness.
I did ask you nicely!

Sparingly using the word no with clients: the benefits.

Avoiding the word no can and will help build a relationship with your clients. Again, no is a negative word that can cause strife, feelings of rejection, and any other number of negative emotions. These negatives might even cause your clients to distrust you. With a client, you want to avoid feelings of distrust and rejection at all costs.

Using the word no sparingly, however, comes with an added benefit. If clients rarely hear you say no, they know you mean no when you actually say no. Your clients will take your no’s seriously, and they’ll know that whatever the matter at hand is important. Your clients will listen when you say no, and be less likely to try to bend unbendable rules.

Of course the positive benefits I already touched upon – your clients will feel like you’re on their side. If your clients don’t hear no all the time – your clients will feel like they matter to you – they will feel important. If your clients feel important, they’re more likely to keep using your services.

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