The Art of Saying "No" Without Burning Bridges

who not how May 13, 2021


Tommy Breedlove built a name for himself as an industry-leading businessman long ago, but somewhere along the way he realized his blind ambition was preventing him from living a well-rounded and balanced life. This epiphany led to a journey of self-exploration which culminated in a renowned coaching practice, one that made Tommy a sought-after keynote speaker and world-class mastermind facilitator.


Tommy credits the knowledge he learned from The Mastermind Playbook for his breakout success as a mastermind leader, and the ability to say no to the wrong opportunities for showing him how to simplify his life and help others do the same. 


Looking at Tommy’s transition from a successful-but-overwhelmed businessman to a truly happy and well-rounded leader brings to mind chapter 8 of Dan Sullivan’s Who Not How. Chapter 8 is titled “How to Avoid the Wrong Whos, Even Highly Attractive Ones,” and talks about why the capacity to say “no” to the wrong opportunities is just as important as the ability to create new ones.


As Sullivan puts it, you learn more about a leader by what they say “no” to than anything else. He gives examples of business leaders who find the courage to decline the business of potential high net worth clients who aren’t respectful of their team. While those decisions are difficult, they ultimately earn the trust of team members and inspire confidence in the leader to steer the ship with integrity. 


Moreover, experienced leaders of service-based businesses understand that the opportunity cost of working with a difficult client simply isn’t worth it when compared to investing in new clients who bring life to you and your team.


Learning to Say “No” to Potential Mastermind Members


The principle of saying “no” to the wrong people and opportunities is absolutely critical for mastermind leaders to understand because facilitators are responsible for only admitting new members into the group who positively impact the experience of other members. A crucial part of leading a mastermind is learning how to say “no” to individuals who aren’t the right fit for the group, even if they seem wonderful on paper. 


Many inexperienced mastermind leaders are focused solely on recruiting more high-paying members without taking into account the intricacies of group dynamics and interpersonal relationships. Facilitators are often disappointed when the mastermind becomes toxic, inauthentic, or political. That’s why learning how to say “no” to the wrong whos, as Dan Sullivan puts it, is such a crucial skill for mastermind leaders.


For a more detailed guide to choosing the perfect mastermind members, check out The Mastermind Playbook.


Why Saying “No” Is Key for Earning Mastermind Members’ Respect


Learning the art of saying “no” extends beyond recruiting new members. It also affects the kind of partnerships and opportunities that flourish as your group gets more connected. Say “no” to opportunities unaligned with the vision of the mastermind and its members. This will strengthen your members’ trust in you as a leader. It will also solidify members’ commitment to the values of the group.


Check out The Mastermind Playbook for more tips on earning the respect of mastermind members.


How to Say “No” to the Wrong Whos


Now that it’s clear why the art of saying “no” is so important for mastermind leaders, let’s explore how facilitators can master this vital principle.


When deciding on whether to pursue a new partnership or opportunity, Dan Sullivan cited the “Hell yes, or no” rule coined by entrepreneur and technologist Derek Sivers. Sivers was best known for founding CD Baby, which went on to become the largest seller of independent music in the world. Sivers founded the company by accident after creating a website to sell his own music, and many of his musician friends asked if he could sell their CDs as well. 


After Sivers sold CD Baby in 2008, he was bombarded with an onslaught of new opportunities and people. He quickly learned that he had to exercise discernment when choosing which opportunities to pursue... and thus coined the “hell yes, or no” rule. 


The rule is simple. When considering whether to pursue a new opportunity or business relationship, if the prospect doesn’t inspire an internal “Hell yeah!” then you should say “no” to the opportunity.


Check out The Mastermind Playbook for even more specific tips on deciding how to choose which opportunities to say “yes” to.


Assessing the Vision and Values of New Mastermind Members


When it comes to assessing whether a potential mastermind member is a good fit for the group, facilitators should listen closely. Asking the right questions and listening attentively will help determine whether the vision and values of the potential member align with the vision of the mastermind. 


Moreover, active listening will allow you to get a read on the spiritual and emotional maturity of a potential member and formulate the right questions intuitively. One example of a question you might ask to get a better understanding of their vision and values is, “If money were no object, what would you be doing with your life?” 


These sorts of probing questions can be a great way to understand the deeper drive and motivations of the candidate. 


For more great questions to ask potential and existing mastermind members, check out The Mastermind Playbook.


Saying “No” Without Being Rude or Burning Bridges


Saying “no” to a person or opportunity can be done in a respectful and dignified manner that leaves the door open for future conversation or collaboration. Even if someone isn’t the right fit for your mastermind or a business relationship, they may become a valued part of your professional network in some other way.


Saying “no” should not be done out of ego or arrogance, but with humility instead. For example, tell the individual, “Though I appreciated getting to know you, we’ve concluded that this isn’t the best fit right now. However, you are still a part of my network. There are other ways we may connect and help each other thrive.”


For more information on learning the art of saying “no,” recruiting new mastermind members, and choosing the right whos, check out The Mastermind Playbook.


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