Saying No: A Formula for Success


Have you ever wanted to yell NO to a client project because you knew it would mean you were stuck in an office all weekend? However, you could not find a nice way to decline them? Tax accountants are notorious for taking on too much to help everyone else, but not taking care of themselves. Since it’s the beginning of tax season, I thought a timely reminder may be needed. A way to say no that you can recall even in your most sleep-deprived and stressed state was in order.

Saying no.

I learned a trick as a mom – deflection, redirection and distraction. When my toddler was getting into things I needed him not to, I got tired of just saying no, no, no, no over and over; so I learned a few things. People react defensively to a direct no. In general, people do not like to hear that you will not do exactly what they are asking of you. As tax accountants, we tend to shy away from confrontation and are sincerely ready to please the people. So, it is easier socially to say yes.

The foolproof formula to say no to a toddler and a client alike:

  1. Compliment them on something or open with a positive. “I am so excited that you started that new LLC in 2019!” [and forgot to tell us]
  2. Say no in no uncertain terms and offer a simple explanation. “The deadline is in two days, so compiling all of the bookkeeping and documents required to file a timely return is not possible.”
  3. Offer an alternative. “We would be happy to extend this return and take care of it over the summer.”
  4. Remind them that you are human too. “Tax season sees long days for my team, and I like to make sure we get home to our loved ones, drink enough water, and sleep.”
  5. Thank them. “Thank you for bringing your additional business return to our firm. We appreciate you as a client.”

With a toddler this tactic looks like “Wow, you made a big splash in the dog water! That water is for dogs to drink, not kids to play in. Let’s go set up your water table outside to play with. First, can you help me clean this up? I am a lot further from the floor than you. [throws towel on the floor] Thank you for cleaning that up and helping me make sure the doggies have enough water to drink!”

Remember, clients will push back, but you must be firm with them. Kindness in the messaging and requesting kindness in return yields much better results than a combative approach.

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Liz Mason is a serial entrepreneur, a giant nerd, and an involved accounting vanguard. She is the Founder of High Rock Accounting, Rebel Rock Accounting, TheDepartment.Tax, and a few other related brands. Liz speaks on a national stage, guests stars on podcasts, and writes frequently. To further her passion for the advancement of the accounting profession, Liz currently serves as a Xero National Ambassador and as the Content Strategist for Tax Practice News. Liz started her career in tax at Grant Thornton (at 20) and automated a portion of her job landing her in the national tax practice. She spent a decade in large public accounting firms working on highly technical tax consulting before branching off on her own. Liz utilizes her creativity and passion at her company to uproot traditional practices and replace them with innovative concepts. She finds joy in efficient technology and her core belief is that everyone and everything can continuously improve (she says "be better" too often). When Liz isn't planning world domination in accounting, she is a die-hard skier, down for any adventure, plays the ukulele, reads everything, and has a good sense of humor. If you're looking for her, you can find her traveling the world and enjoying new food and cultures with her young son. Follow Liz and High Rock Accounting on Twitter at @LizzyNorMa and @HighRockCPAs.