Do you know when you should say, No?

Do you have the courage to say, No?

During my lifetime there have been many times when I needed to say, No.  These were times when it would have been easier to say, Yes.

When in my early 20s, I sold restaurant equipment. I was the new kid in town; the metro Atlanta market was highly competitive and dominated by older seasoned professionals.

I knew nothing about the restaurant business at that time. I had learned from several part-time jobs while in school that sales could be built on personal relationships and service. This is where I chose to focus my time and attention.

One customer I was beginning to win over from a competitor was a small chain of short-order grills open of 24 hours a day 7 days a week.  The owner had delegated full responsibility for the operation of all the restaurants to his general manager.  Let’s call the general manager Walter.

Walter needed to replace a 40 cubic ft. refrigerator, but refused to buy it from me before he got bids from my competitors.  This did not surprise me; he was very price conscious.

His next request, on the other hand, did surprise me.  He said, “I need a new washer and dryer for my home.  I want it cheap, really cheap.  One of your competitors will take care of me.  Will you?”

Walter wanted it at no cost to him.  He was asking me for a bribe.

I was certain of what would happen if I said, “No.”  I would not get the order for that refrigerator.

I thought about how much I needed that sale.  I worked on commission.  No sales meant no income.

I told him, No.

My actual reply was, “I will sell the refrigerator to you for the lowest price that I can, and I will introduce you to an appliance salesman who will give you a fair price for a washer and dryer.  I cannot deliver a washer and dryer to your home if you buy the refrigerator.”

When I left him that day, I knew that I would not get the sale.  As important as that sale was, I left with my integrity intact, which was worth more than money.

I realized that to maintain my integrity, I must

Learn to Say No.

That is one of my Principles of Creative Followership.

A few days later, Walter called me, He said, “We have decided to buy the new refrigerator from you.”  He never again mentioned the washer and dryer.

Today, almost 60 years later, I wonder, did Walter expect me to bribe him with a free washer and dryer?  Or, was this a test of my integrity?

I never asked.  I don’t want to know.

What do you think?

Jimmy Collins

The stories I tell are true and from my real-life experiences.  Where appropriate, names have been changed to protect individual privacy.

Want to find out more? My new book, Jimmy’s Stories is now available on Amazon: