The Art of Saying No

One of the hardest things for me to do is to say “no” to people. It gets me in all sorts of trouble, too. I get over-committed, over-booked, over-stressed in an effort to please everyone all the time.

It’s a common problem – I know lots of people for whom saying “no” is the worst thing they could possibly do. However, there are times when saying “no” is exactly what I need to do. The crazy thing is, 99.9% of the times I have ever said “no” to someone, it’s totally okay. There’s none of the backlash, hurt feelings, and disappointment that I often make up in my own head.

As I get more busy in my business, my personal life and as I continue to grow my online network, I find I am having to say “no” more often. Don’t get me wrong…I have absolutely no issue with helping people when they ask me for it. In fact, I enjoy helping people. That’s why I do it. But there comes a point, where, if it’s too much for me to balance with my job, my family etc., that I have to say that nasty “no”.

I’ve learned that there are techniques for saying “no” gracefully. And the number one way to say “no” to someone nicely is to communicate with them. Seems kind of backwards, since you’re trying to NOT have to do something, but communication is the vital key.

Don’t Ignore. Ignoring and avoidance is the worst thing you can do. The problem with ignoring someone when you should be saying “no” to them is that they think you don’t care. If someone sends you a request or asks you a favour and you just can’t accommodate, better to send a polite response saying why you are unable to fulfill their request than not to respond at all.

What if Volume is an Issue? Feeling overwhelmed by all the people wanting a piece of you? We’ve all been there. I have weeks where my inbox is chock full of people wanting something from me. My voice mail is also full. It’s pretty overwhelming, and my first instinct is to run away and hide. How to deal with volume requests? Well, I hooked up AwayFind on my email, that at least helps me to determine what requires my urgent attention and what doesn’t. But the man who has this one cased is the inimitable Gary Vaynerchuk. You see, if you send Gary an email, he sends you an automated reply. Now, before you go getting all bent out of shape about automated replies..check out what he sends:

Hey, here’s a link that will explain everything!

Thank you
Gary Vaynerchuk

Click on the link. You get Gary, on a video, explaining how he deals with email, and asking for people’s help in helping him manage his correspondence. He provides contacts for all his online outposts, and contacts for his “people” too. He is saying “no”, and doing it in a personable, polite way.

Delegate delegate delegate. Trying to keep up with responding to everything all the time is impossible if you’re super busy. So find ways to filter information to people who can more easily and quickly help. In essence, what you are doing here is saying “No, I can’t help you, but I’m referring you to this person who I trust to help you.” Of course, you want to make sure that the person you are delegating to is available and willing to say “yes”. Delegation is hard to do – but it’s worth it, always. Just make sure that you have people you absolutely trust on board…because every time you delegate, it’s still your reputation that’s on the line.

So there you have it – these are a few interesting ways that I’ve learned about how to politely decline. We all have times that we have to say “no” to people, and it’s never easy. Please share some techniques that you use when you need to say “no” in the comments.

Oh, and by the way – if you say “no” to someone politely and they get mad at you, start flaming you, or have an otherwise negative reaction, before you feel bad about it…consider whether they were worth helping in the first place.

Social Media is NOT an Innovation

Way back in 1999, the man who invented the World Wide Web, Al Gore Tim Berners-Lee, wrote a book about how he created the Web, called “Weaving the Web: The Ulitmate Destiny of the World Wide Web by its Inventor“. I have the original, hard cover edition of this book. I’m not sure if it’s been updated in the newer editions or not. Here’s the most striking quote from the whole thing:

The Web is more a social creation than a technical one. I designed it for a social effect – to help people work together – and not as a technical toy. The ultimate goal of the Web is to support and improve our weblike existence in the world. We clump into families, associations, and companies. We develop trust across the miles and distrust around the corner. What we believe, endorse, agree with, and depend on is representable and, increasingly represented on the Web. We all have to ensure that the society we build with the Web is of the sort we intend.

— Tim Berners-Lee, Weaving the Web


Berners-Lee wrote this in ’99, and if you read the book, it turns out he’s been thinking about this concept of a worldwide social web since sometime in the 1970’s.

1999. It was the infancy of Google. It was pre-Wordpress blogs. Definitely pre-Twitter, podcasting, Digg, Delicious, and StumbleUpon, and any of the other many tools that we use in this space we call “social media”. Back in a time when a web page was not much more than plain text on a screen and even before that, Berners-Lee had incredible foresight. It’s a common misconception that Berners-Lee invented the Web for computer programmers and scientists. In fact, he invented it for everyone.

He actually had to jump through a lot of hoops at CERN where he worked. He snuck around, trying out his project on people, all while making it “look” like he was building something that only physicists could make use of. All the while, he was building a tool that would allow for sharing, communication and collaboration by everyone, anywhere in the world.

Skip forward to 2008 and we now have what many consider a real innovation called “social media”.  Well, I’ve got news for you. Social media is not an innovation. It’s the raison d’etre for the Web. Social media is merely the buzzword we’ve decided to attach to what was the original point of Berners-Lee’s invention. It’s the evolution of what he described as the ultimate goal, “to support and improve our weblike existence in the world”.

Case in point: Imagine if suddenly, Twitter was gone. Vanished. A permanent Fail Whale sort of gone. Imagine if suddenly, your blog disappeared, or the blog of your favourite blogger ceased to exist. Imagine a world with no Stumbleupon, or Digg, or YouTube, or Delicious. Whatever would we do?

I know what we’d do. We’d find another way to connect. Someone would build another tool, and we’d all head over there. Or maybe we’d actually meet in person where feasible, and connect that way. What I do know is, resourceful as we are, we’d find a way to still carry on the conversation that we’ve started here. We’d still have our weblike existence, because that’s how the Web is set up.

In the end, whether something is labeled as “social media” or not might be a moot point. This has become more and more apparent to me in recent weeks. There’s a shift happening. Maybe you’ve felt it too, depending on how involved you are in your networks and what you’ve been reading. The focus is starting to move away from the latest new tools, gadgets and technical creations, and more towards what Berners-Lee envisioned as a “social creation”.

More and more of the conversations I’m reading and having are about the social marvel that is the Web itself …not the marvel that is “social media”. This is a really, really good thing. It means that we are starting to move beyond the latest craze/gadget/guru phase. The environment is maturing. Communication, collaboration and communities are starting to become the mainstream ways in which people are using the Web. The social Web is no longer just for the “social media crowd”. I suspect, over the next 6 months, that this is going to become even more prevalent. I also suspect, that over the next little while, our label of “social media” is going to, if not go away, at least change.

10 years ago, people saw the Web was a place to get information. Today, more and more people are seeing it as a place to connect. Therein lies the difference. The shift to this thinking in the mainstream is going to be the next big revolution on the Web. It’s going to be the realization of Berners-Lees’  incredible vision. As he says, the “Web society” is forming before our eyes. We are ultimately all responsible for how this new society takes shape.

How do you think things will shape up?

Well Lookie Here…I’m on Alltop

Alltop, all the cool kids (and me)

So I thought I might as well try to get listed somewhere on I sent off my request and wouldn’t you know it – they’ve listed me in the social media section!

Not really sure what it all means, but I have noticed I’m getting a lot more hits all of a sudden.

Guess I’d better make sure I keep crankin’ out some decent content around here, eh?

Thanks Alltop! You rock!

Twitter Takeaways

First of all, many thanks to Mack Collier for being my inspiration for this post. We had a great conversation on Twitter last night, which started when he asked the Twitterverse:


I replied to Mack that I think that I actually blog more because of Twitter, that what I read on Twitter inspires me. Then I realized something.

Twitter is my input. Blogging is my output. Let me explain.

Depending on what I’m working on and whether I need really focused time or not, I usually have Tweetdeck running in the background on my screen. I keep one eyeball on it, and if something catches my eye I’ll take a look. It’s kind of akin to the days when I used to work in the cube farm at the giant corporation. I would be working away, and I’d hear snippets of conversations all around me as I worked. Sometimes I’d listen more closely, if the subject was related to me or something I was interested in. Sometimes I’d stand up over the edge of my cubicle and contribute if I thought it would be helpful. Good thing about Twitter is, it’s far more colourful than those grey cubicle walls I suffered behind for all those years.

My point is, Twitter is one of my primary inputs of information. The conversations on there lead me to all sorts of things. It’s my newspaper, my radio, my TV, and my water cooler all in one.

I spend a good majority of my days writing. If I’m ever at a loss for inspiration, a particular word, or a way to phrase something, I take a few minutes and peruse Twitter. Sometimes I contribute, other times I just watch. Often I will find what I need just by watching.

When it comes to my blog, I probably get more ideas from Twitter than from anywhere else. Sure, it may be indirect (someone provides a link from their Twitter feed to a blog post or news story) but Twitter is still the source.

My blog is the primary output of all this stuff that comes in and then proceeds to fly around in my head. People often ask me how I get my blog ideas. I don’t really have a formula, which is probably why I don’t post every day. Things just come to me and then I need to write about them. I don’t have a massive list of posts I need to write. I have a few scribbles in the “Notes” application on my iPhone. I blog about what I see and experience around me, and that immediacy is what I like about it. I don’t heavily edit things either. I write stream of consciousness for the most part, then tweak.

As Mack said last night, after I mentioned I’d be posting about our conversation in the morning:


Mack and I have never met, and we live in different countries. Yet, we were able to make a connection, have a conversation, and be inspired to think about things a little more deeply. And, he brought me the input that was required in order for me to have this output here. Doesn’t that just blow your mind? It blows mine all the time.

One More Twitter Takeaway

Here’s a tip, something I just thought of this morning. I was visiting my brother and sister in law yesterday and we got to talking about Twitter. They both have accounts that they don’t really use, and I got the usual “I don’t really get it” response from them. I tried to give the typical explanations, and my sis-in-law did seem a bit more intrigued by those. But today, I have discovered the thing that is going to get her to see the value.

You see, she’s into wine in a big way, and has some pretty interesting opinions about the wine industry, particularly as it relates to the business side of things. So this morning I did a few searches on Twitter Search around wine and business, and I think that the results I got will be very exciting to her. I do believe that now, she will immediately see how she can benefit, when she sees how many other people are talking about the same things she is passionate about. If you are trying to show someone the value of Twitter, show them a couple of Twitter Searches on topics of interest to them. I think they may start to see things differently.

The Nightclub at the Edge of the Universe Gets It

zaphodOn Thursday night after my lovely birthday celebration with friends, Greg and I decided to make a stop before we headed home to one of my favourite places. Zaphod Beeblebrox, the nightclub at the edge of the universe, is an institution in Ottawa’s club scene. Not only is it the venue of choice of some of the best live music in the city, let alone the country, it’s just a really fun place to hang out.

I’ve known the club’s owner, Eugene Haslam, since about 1992 when he moved Zaphod’s to its current location downtown in the Byward Market. He’s one of the smartest businesspeople I have ever met. I mean, this is a guy that totally gets it. He packs the place every night of the week. That’s unusual for Ottawa, since we tend to roll up the sidewalks at around 8pm most weeknights. I’ve been thinking about what makes Zaphod’s work. Here’s what I’m feeling about it…

It’s Accessible. Zaphod’s has live music 6 nights a week. And not just any old live music, either. Eugene only books in bands that are edgy, fresh, and fantastic. Any night you can show up and know that you WILL be entertained. But the best part is, the bands go on at around 8pm and finish up at 11pm, at which time the most talented DJ’s in town start spinning tunes for those who want to dance their faces off. The thing about the early shows is, you can still go out, see a great band, and be back home in bed early enough that your 8am meeting won’t be painful. This makes the live music scene accessible to the average working person all the time. As a result, Eugene’s got lineups at the door nearly every night.

It’s Got a Theme. Sure, there are lots of bars that have a theme. Some have an Irish theme. Some have a maritime theme or a Mexican theme. But Zaphod’s has the coolest theme of all, and it’s the way that it’s implemented that makes it work so well. I’ll admit – I’m a huge fan of The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I’ve read the book about 427 times and I even liked the movie version. Zaphod’s has a great theme. But it’s subtle, and that’s why it works. Sure, the place has a definite futuristic, other-galaxy feel to it. The drinks have catchy names like Slartibartfast and Bambleweenie. But you don’t go there because of the theme. You go because of the great atmosphere and terrific music. This means that even those who are not necessarily Douglas Adams fans will still have a good time. And even if you don’t know how bad Vogon poetry really is, you can still belly up to the bar and get yourself a Pangalactic Gargleblaster and fit right in.

There’s a Human Being Behind It. There would be no Zaphod’s without Eugene. This man is completely and intensely passionate about music. It’s like he invites hundreds of people into his house every night for a show. More nights than not, Eugene is at his club, and he’s just as in to the music as everyone else. When you’re around Eugene, it’s impossible to be in a bad mood. He also loves his city and is very involved in the community, raising money and doing lots of good things. Anyone who is thinking of starting a business needs to know that the single most important thing is to BE YOUR BUSINESS. We are all human beings, and we need to stop hiding behind labels and brands and start being the human face behind everything we do. When people think of Zaphod Beeblebrox they don’t think of it without thinking about the man behind it.

It Knows Its Audience. When we went in to the bar on Thursday night, it was jammed. The band had already finished and it was “Full Flavour Thursday”. Two DJs were spinning tracks, a meld of hip hop and funk. Zaphod’s has probably one of the most diverse clientele I have ever seen in a bar. You get the after-work business crowd, the twenty something college students, and the spiky-haired and heavily pierced all in one place. This diversity works because Eugene knows how to cater to his audience. By melding the theme, the great live music, and the wicked dance party every night, he’s able to create an environment where everyone feels at home. I can’t say it enough – knowing your audience is absolutely key to success.

For anyone who owns a business, or is thinking about starting one, these are 4 essential points you need to put some serious thought into. Maybe you should consider doing this from a nice comfy booth at Zaphod’s with a Pangalactic Gargleblaster in your hand. If you are in Ottawa, and haven’t been to Zaphod’s, you are missing out. If you are coming to Ottawa, give me a call and I’ll take you there myself.

How to Shape YOUR Online Experience

I saw a cool post this morning on Social Media Today from guest blogger Lena West of xynoMedia. She talks about how she personally deals with social media in her own workflow, and points out that “last time I checked, we each set the rules for how we interact with other people. Social media is no different.”

Lena is so right. We spend a lot of time talking about the most effective way to use social media tools, to get the best results, the biggest ROI and so on. But really, at the end of the day, it’s about creating your OWN experience. There’s no perfect fit that works for everyone.

We all use the Internet in different ways. I thought it would be great for us to share some of the ways we use the Web’s bountiful offerings, for the benefit of anyone who might be seeking some more information about what’s what and different ways people shape their online experience.

I’ll start, then you provide your own tips in the comments, okay?

Email. I am working on tackling my email differently. I have three email accounts – my work email, my personal email, and my college email. I get upwards of 20 emails a week from students (doesn’t seem like much until you realize that they are mostly questions that require some sort of acknowledgement or response). I get countless work emails per day, and then my personal stuff, most of which is generated from friends or from my social networks. I use Gmail to catch all of my email in one place. I use labels and filters to pre-sort my college email (which I only check twice a week). I recently discovered AwayFind thanks to this guy and although I’ve yet to receive an urgent contact, I have the peace of mind knowing that I can step away from my email for several hours and not worry about missing something critical. (My AwayFind review is coming soon, BTW).

Twitter. I’m a power user of Twitter. It’s network central for me. I have many forms of communication on Twitter. I use it to talk about random things. I use it to post links to interesting content I’ve discovered or to re-post (a.k.a. re-tweet) others’ interesting info. I use it to post links to my own blog posts (in moderation). I use it to have conversations with people, and I’ve even used it to edit a video (through direct messages). TweetDeck is my tool of choice on my desktop computer, because it allows me to manage my feed, my replies and my direct messages. I use TwitterFon on my iPhone because I like the interface.

Delicious. I get a ton of use out of my Delicious account. Delicious is a social bookmarking tool but what I like is it allows me to tag groups of bookmarks for different purposes. I collect bookmarks for use in my classes, bookmarks that I share out to my students, and I even have the demo reel for our company bookmarked through delicious. It’s super easy, whenever a new project goes online somewhere, I just bookmark it, tag it, and voila! I also have my “Other Writings” column over on the right there done through delicious. I just tag any links to other online writing I’ve done and boom! It shows up in that column. Pretty neat!

Those are just three of the tools I use online to help me shape my experience. I do have others but I want to hear your take. Post in the comments what tools you use and how you use them. Hopefully we can pass on some valuable info to others, and they can take what they need from our collective advice and use it to shape their own experience.

On Thankfulness

I have a serious attitude problem. I have a tendency sometimes, to focus on what I DON’T have, instead of what I DO have. I’m sure we all do this from time to time. It’s easy to get wrapped up in this kind of self talk: “If only I had THIS, then I could do THIS.” “I don’t have that, so I can’t be happy”.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving in the U.S. I’ve never really thought much about this holiday (our Thanksgiving is in October here in Canada), but I’m seeing so much discussion about it in my social networks, that it’s made me sit back and reflect too.

My reflections are further emphasized by the fact that this year, U.S. Thanksgiving Day is also my birthday. As Americans sit down to celebrate with their families, I too will be celebrating with my family and friends.

I’ve realized this morning that I need to give myself a bit of an attitude adjustment. That being grateful for what one has isn’t about a holiday, or a birthday, but that gratefulness should be a theme throughout life.

So, as of this very moment, I will no longer worry about what I don’t have. I will focus on what I do have:

My health and the health of my family. I am blessed to have a loving, wonderful family who are healthy and happy. I too, am blessed to have my own health and well being.

My friends. Tomorrow will be a day of celebration for me, and I am so grateful to have the opportunity to have amazing friends who want to share that celebration with me.

My work. I’m thankful that I have the opportunity to follow my passion. I owe that opportunity to my parents, who always encouraged us to follow our dreams, and to my husband, who works so hard in order to give me the opportunity to make my dream come true.

So that’s it. It’s out there. No more focusing on lack. Only focusing on the abundance I already have.

What are you thankful for?