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Are You Comfortable Saying ‘No’?

Written by: Corey Harris & Julie Traxler, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

Since we launched our business back in March, we’ve noticed that accountability is a trait that a lot of people lack. Whether people were just using the pandemic as an excuse or it’s their true nature, we have had many people—friends, family, and even people we’ve hired—let us down. It wasn’t until a recent conversation we had with a colleague that we realized there was more to the whole thing.


We went back and forth, discussing accountability over the course of a 90-minute call. We told stories and discussed theories. Our favorite story to date was when a consultant we hired to help us asked the question: “How do you keep yourself so accountable? You say you’re going to do things, and you do them.” The consultant was asking because it was a foreign concept to her. That alone should have been the reason we fired her, but we didn’t fix that problem until later.


The next topic of conversation was about the three types of accountability, which aren’t often separated from each other. First, there’s holding yourself accountable. This is setting personal goals that likely won't have an effect on anything or anyone but yourself, so the only person who is involved is you. The next is holding others accountable. This is setting goals and expectations for others to meet and make sure they deliver what they agreed to. The last, which is probably the least thought of, is being OK with people holding you accountable. This is where personal and professional problems really occur because it feels like a personal attack when someone is calling you out on not delivering. Realistically, this type of accountability is all about how well you receive and process feedback.


The biggest “a-ha” moment we had was when our colleague explained how “accountability” has a negative connotation. We hadn’t thought of it that way, but the negativity is right there in the definition.


If you’re accountable, you’re obligated, responsible, and have to explain your actions. It’s the generic movie/TV threat of “if X happens, I’m holding YOU accountable.” Nobody wants to be on the receiving end of that threat. So, why do so many commit to things that they know are outside of what they can deliver? For the most part, it’s because people have a hard time saying “no.” There are many reasons why, but for many people, it starts young. When you were a kid, how many times did you ask your parents to buy something while you were at the store to only get the “maybe next time” response? It’s way easier than saying “no,” especially to a child in public.


When it comes to making hard decisions or having difficult conversations, most of us happily kick the can down the road. Maybe we’re hoping there will be a better solution or way to approach it later, or maybe we’re trying to avoid that responsibility altogether. It’s human nature, and we’re all guilty of doing it. That’s fine. The problem is when it becomes a habit, when it becomes part of who you are. If your boss tells you to “write that down” every time you’ve been given direction, it’s not because they’re a jerk (they may be), but it’s probably because you have a problem with forgetting what you’re supposed to do. If your friend tells you to meet them at 8:15, but you find out everyone else was told 8:30, it’s not because that friend doesn’t value your time. It’s likely because you are habitually late. If people are modifying the way they deal with you versus others, it may be because you simply aren’t accountable in one way or another.


There are ways to become more accountable as a person, but there’s a chance if you’re looking into seminars or tools, you’re already accountable. So, what’s the answer? Before you ever even ask someone a question that requires them to be accountable, ask them first if they are comfortable saying “no.” It looks like this; “Before we go any further with this conversation, I want to make sure you are comfortable saying ‘no’ to me if your answer is truly ‘no.’ Are you comfortable saying ‘no’?” Let them know that it’s not going to hurt your feelings, and let them know you appreciate their honesty. Most importantly, answering honestly honors the integrity of the relationship, and aside from only surrounding yourself with highly accountable people, that’s all you can really do. The bonus is you hopefully now know whether or not you can count on that person helping you.


We all make mistakes, miss deadlines, and overcommit, but when it happens, own it. Don’t make excuses. Own it and work on making it right.

Connect with Julie Traxler and Corey Harris on their LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter or visit their website.


Read more from Corey & Julie!

Julie Traxler and Corey Harris, Executive Contributors Brainz Magazine

Julie and Corey started their company, SB PACE, due to the 2020 pandemic to assist small businesses. Since then, they have expanded into helping start-ups, companies looking to improve, and small business mergers and acquisitions. They wrote the book on small business disaster preparedness and continued to help small businesses by leveraging their knowledge and experience working for Fortune 500 companies and Big Four consulting firms. Julie and Corey are the experts small business owners turn to when looking for sustainable, long-term success.

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