Saying NO is not a bad thing…

As an engineering student at Vivekanand Education Society’s Institute of Technology, Mumbai, India and as a Secretary for the Computer Society of India (CSI) I was continuously part of various college events. While working on an event, one of my seniors told me, “Shreyas, you need to learn to say no to people. When someone else asks you to do any work, you should not say yes to everything which comes your way.” Fast forward twelve years, I realize as a Product Manager, it is critical to say NO but am I saying it enough?

Saying NO is not a bad thing…

As a PM, when we work on various features, some of them we ship it and some of them stay in the backlog. I personally hate when I have to move a feature down in the priority list. As a PM, I am saying NO to stakeholders, features, and customers every day. However, it is hard for me because I have to take an emotional hit in my mind every time I am saying NO to someone.  While growing up, I have automatically incorporated NO is a negative word in my mind and as an Indian cultural nomenclature, saying NO to the system or elders or in general is a bad thing. If we reflect on our day, we are continuously saying no to various things such as promotional phone calls, going out, or accepting a lunch proposal. In my case, I don’t like to drink tea because I am a coffee drinker. So I say no to tea if someone asks me for a cup of tea. If we are continuously saying no, why do I struggle to say NO to features, stakeholders, or customers? Though we are used to saying no to a lot of situations, we are not used to saying no when there is a stake involved. Saying NO to someone who is part of the personal or professional relationship is hard. So the million-dollar question; “is saying NO to someone is a bad thing?”

As a product manager, we are continuously dealing with priorities and saying no to other features while working on critical ones. The biggest rewiring we have to do in our heads is to learn to say no without hurting the relationship or emotions. There is always a feature, sales team or customer success team is waiting on. However, we have limited resources and limited time so which feature we pick to deliver is always vital to move the company and customer’s business forward. We would love to execute on all features; however, it is not practical. On the other side, as a PM, we have to consider the opportunity cost for delivering feature X vs. feature Y. It means we are daily saying NO to someone. It means saying NO is not at all a bad thing. However, it is essential to show empathy and think from the other person’s shoes. 

Thus, in my opinion, saying no to stakeholders, customers, or features is necessary. It is crucial for PMs to get used to saying NO politely without hurting stakeholders emotions. In the end, “You cannot hunt and shoot two rabbits at the same time”; so you have to say NO to at least one.  


Also published on Medium.