29/30: Saying "No" Constructively

We product managers often find ourselves in the uncomfortable position that we have to say “no” to various requests. Sticking to your product strategy and ensuring you deliver value is more important. But how do you say “no” in a constructive way?

The truth it, great product managers rarely — if ever — say “no”.

Product managers who simply reject every idea eventually lose out on the opportunities that their business partners have to bring. If you build a reputation as someone who only ever says “no,” people will stop coming to you.

Your superpower as a product manager is that you operate in the space in between everyone else, and are therefore uniquely qualified to explore the Why space, i.e., the context and underlying problem or need behind every request.

It’s important you try to put yourself in the your colleagues’ shoes. Why is your AE asking you for an integration? Why is your CEO insisting on a feature that a major competitor has launched? Why does your product leader ask for a change in direction for your team?

They all have good reasons. They may not always be the right reasons, but from their vantage point, they are good and worthy.

So next time you’re asked to build something and you want to say no, try to explore the opportunity that underlies the request:

  • Understand why this specific individual is making it.

  • Understand what the underlying problem behind the request is.

  • Understand what would happen if you don’t build it.

In the process, you may very well learn new things. Think of it as product discovery, and treat it as such.

Instead of rejecting a request and thinking of it as an annoyance, look at it as research. Work together with your stakeholder to (in)validate the request, and take them along for the ride.

You’ll build reputation as a problem-solver. And you’ll get to avoid building things that you have now validated simply don’t bring value.

And that means you have to, too. But that’s what makes it all so fun in the first place!


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