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  • Writer's pictureNanci Brown

How to Say 'No' to Clients

Updated: Mar 6, 2019



Remember back in the day, when you were a young project management professional just learning the ropes? Ah, those were the days. Everything was so new and fresh, filled with possibilities, and maybe just a few clients who took advantage of your naivete. Oh, those guys. Such kidders.


I will admit that I wasn't born knowing how to say no to clients. It took some experience under my belt to give me the confidence I needed. Ultimately, at a certain point, I realized that clients were working with me for my expertise, which meant that they valued my opinion. So it seemed unprofessional not to clearly state when I disagree with them*. And guess what? Nine times out of ten, they appreciate my candor, and tell me so.


Practically speaking, how do you go about saying no to a client? Blurting out,"no way, Jose", when your client asks you for something, is probably not the best way to go. If just the thought of saying 'no' gives you hives, here's a workaround that should help you out. The best part is, you can almost always answer 'yes'...just with caveats.


The Workaround


Scenario: Your client calls to tell you that their app, which you've been working on for 6 months and which is scheduled for release in 2 weeks, now needs to be translated into 10 other languages in time for the release date. Even if you're freaking out inside, be cool. Tell your client you'll give it some thought and get back to them by the next day. Then hang up the phone, and breathe. Go for a walk. Breathe some more.


Stop to breathe, and think, before you reply.

Now, think about the practical solutions you can offer. Since you know what your team can/cannot accomplish, you know that 10 translations in 2 weeks is a non-starter. But what about 1 translation in 2 weeks, if you bring in 3 more developers? Or 4 translations, in one month? You get where I'm going, right? As the project manager, you're the problem solver. You just need to figure out what options you can give to the client that you can deliver on, and at what price.


The bottom line: Often you can get away with the workaround above, where you're answering 'yes', but with caveats. And when you truly need to disagree, say so, but always try to offer alternative suggestions. Because you're not a naysayer. You're a problem solver.


*Obviously, kiddies, I'm not talking about political discourse or any other contentious topics. The disagreements I'm referring to here are of the purely professional kind, where the client wants to take an action that you don't see as advantageous, and you tell them so, rather than let them venture down the wrong path.

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