You Can, but you shouldn’t Can’t

by Guy Ralfe on December 16, 2009

cant textHave you noticed in business how you react when people tell you something CAN’T be done? For me it lights my fuse and I then become driven to find the solution, almost to prove them wrong. I question the persons qualifications, their intent and any optimism that my problems are going to be solved by this individual/team/organization vaporizes.

A few years back I was the person delivering this news, time and again the customer was asking for help and because we didn’t have the skills we continually told the customer it can’t be done. Looking back it was a difficult time as this approach only added fuel to the fire and caused unnecessary conflict on projects at the time.

Customers employ staff and engage companies services primarily because they lack the skills and competence themselves. Clients are there to make requests, otherwise we would not be there servicing them, so always provide an option to move the client forward – let the client be the one to decide to quit a particular request not you telling them.

To do this I see two possible routes;

  1. Let the customer know why you believe this to be risky/difficult but that you could perform a little exploratory work and then they (the customer) can make a decision.
  2. Demonstrate to the customer why it is not feasible/possible etc

In both instances you have to show that you can lead the client through the process. This builds the trust in your capabilities and, generally, they will work with you to find a mutual outcome.

Another situation that I caution is “sandbagging” your risk by making something seem overly complicated. Take two situations:

  1. Consultant advises client he is unsure if it is possible, will do some investigation / proof of concept then provide an estimate to complete.
  2. Consultant advises client this is a major technical challenge and that it will take 40-80 hrs to attempt a resolution.

When consultant A comes back after 4 hours and advises he has a potential solution and it will take a further 4 hrs to develop, the client will work with the consultant. If consultant B comes back after 6 hrs and reports the task completed and that it is available to test – the client is left overjoyed by the result but regarding your competency and skill, it will be judged as low, and you may not get the next business request.

Clients pay to receive services, that requires knowledge, expertise and a leadership offering to facilitate realizing their requests. Can’t is not a powerful option so look to see how you can make positive possibilities for your customers, even if one possibility makes them realize this is not an option – you just should not be the one saying can’t in response to a request.

A couple of years on and I have a team that has great skills, are open and engaging with our clients and our business is thriving as a result. Best, our customers keep coming back for more.

Hindsight is a beautiful thing.

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