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Articles

The Power of the Word “No”

Nope

When I was a youngster, I had the great opportunity of working for a famous best-selling writer.

He took big risks on me and put me in charge of a series of important projects – including flying me to Kingsport, Tennessee to publish one of his books at the tender age of 22.

Then he put me in charge of renovating a big hotel in Florida, and then half a million sq. ft. of office space in Los Angeles.  I had hundreds of people under my charge and I was 23.  (He once told his son-in-law “if you need a miracle, send Cynthia.”)

But the biggest risk he took was when he put me in charge of the PO (purchase order) line.  In other words, if I signed off on a renovations expense – the check issued.  The dude was a risk-taker.

But it was a calculated risk.  Before I got the power to sign POs, he made me stand in front of a mirror with a witness for one hour and say “NO.”

That seemed kind of fun for about five minutes.

After that I had to get creative.  Have you ever considered how many ways there are to say “no?”  There’s Shakespeare “no,” Bible “no,” Beatles “no,” Rolling Stones “no,” big meanie “no,” nice “no,” cheerful “no,” angry “no,” conservative “no,” enthusiastic “no,” hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.  You get the idea.

At the end of the “No” drill, no was just no.  It didn’t come with a bunch of baggage and mis-emotion.  It wasn’t necessarily tyrannical or oppressive.  It didn’t immediately cause a reaction in me or the people I dealt with.  I also learned that you can actually say no without using the word.  For example, you can say not okay or not approved.

Over the years, and especially in business, I’ve learned that when you say no, if you go on to kindly educate the person as to why – they will often thank you.  I am repeatedly surprised when I get thanked for saying no.

For instance, I probably get one or two requests every month to let a tenant out of their lease.

I explain that the bank has to rely on me to collect the rents each month so that their mortgage gets paid, and the property is kept up.  Likewise, I have to rely on good qualified tenants to keep their contracts and pay their rents so I can keep my contract with the bank and our service providers.  If we let everyone out of their lease when it was inconvenient for them to fulfill their contract, we wouldn’t even have a business.

Plus, I’m required by law to treat all of our tenants the same, so if I let one person out of their lease I have to let everyone out of their lease or I may get in discrimination trouble which could carry a $10K fine.

That’s the bad news.  The good news is that I will work like a mad woman to re-rent their unit as fast as possible to mitigate the damages.

Tenants appreciate it when you explain the business reason why their request is not approved.

Every once in a while if a tenant gets belligerent (which happened recently when a tenant’s boyfriend tried to verbally rough me up) I might get snarky and say “what you’re really saying to me is ‘hey I want to break my lease and I don’t want to suck up the costs of my actions, so I want you to suck up the costs of my actions.  And if you say no you’re just a big meanie yucky landlord.’”

That usually ends the conversation.

Here’s a horrible example of some landlords that couldn’t say no:

When I was practicing law an adult daughter hauled her parents into my office under protest.  The parents (I’m guessing in their mid-70s) had a young family living in their rental house that hadn’t paid rent for years.  Years.  (I’ll save you from the giant convoluted stories that the landlords bought instead of collecting rent.)

The retired landlord had gone back to work so he could pay the mortgage on the rental house because the young family wasn’t paying rent.

That was a landlord that could not say no.  It was easier to go back to work than to confront the deadbeats and say nyet.

You can’t be successful in business unless you have the ability to say and hear the word no.  Learn to use it and succeed.

[Photo credit: christopherdale via photopin cc ]

  • Hi! This is my first visit to your blog! We are a team of volunteers
    and starting a new initiative in a community in the same niche.
    Your blog provided us useful information to work on. You have done a outstanding job!

  • I have a clause right in my leases that say a lease termination costs two months rent. Of course they still have to give proper notice. I should be able to rent it within that time.

    No Nonsense Landlord

    September 21, 2014

  • In Utah that clause would be illegal. There’s case law outlawing a lease termination fee. A landlord cannot set a fee estimating the cost of breaking a lease looking forward at the time of lease signing, a landlord can only look backward and charge the exact loss that the tenant caused (lost rent, cleaning, advertising, etc.) I think making new money is always more productive than chasing after lost money, so either way it’s a loss. But thanks mucho for your input! In your state that clause may help discourage someone from breaking their lease.

    Cynthia

    September 24, 2014

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