With Dr. Ivan Misner, Founder of Business Network International (BNI) and a New York Times Bestselling Author of Who’s In Your Room?
Steve spoke this week with Dr. Ivan Misner, founding member and Chief Visionary Officer at BNI, and a New York Times bestselling author. Ivan, a veteran of the business world and a professional networker, helped shed some light on how you can handle yourself when it comes to potentially awkward conversations, especially when it comes to business, and how to focus on the things that really matter to you.
The Art Of Saying “No”
Saying “no” is hard for a lot of us, even when doing so is in our best interest. According to Steve, “People generally like to say ‘yes’. They want to help. They want to be supportive.” But more than that, it seems that most people haven’t developed the skills that are needed to tell someone no without sounding like an awful person.
This is especially true in business. Saying no to the wrong person or an important assignment could end up burning bridges you’ll need in the future. But there is a responsible and effective way to say no while keeping your reputation and your job security intact.
Ivan spells out two of the most effective ways to say “no” in his latest book, Who’s in Your Room?. One is by saying something like, “If I say yes to that, I’m afraid I’d let you down.” It’s a powerful way to say no without actually saying the word no. “Maybe it’s not your area of expertise. Whatever the reason is, be candid with whomever you’re saying no to.”
A second technique, which supports the first, is to refer them to someone whom you know who is more qualified to handle the request. The important thing is to take the time to actually connect them with that person.
The One Room Metaphor
Steve asked Ivan to explain why it’s so important to be able to say no in both your personal and your professional life. Ivan explained by using the “one room” metaphor which he wrote about in his book. “Imagine that you live your life in one room, and that room only has one door. When people come into your life, they enter your room and are there forever. Once people come into your life, they stay there. They’re in your head, your room. So, you need to learn how to say no to people or to situations that aren’t part of your mission or your purpose or the things that excite you and make you enjoy life.”
Dr. Daniel Amen, a neuroscientist that Ivan interviewed when writing his latest book, said that “The experiences you have with people, their fingerprints are all over your brain for the rest of your life.” That’s why it’s so important to be discerning, learning how to say no and avoid inviting certain people into your life. Allowing negative or toxic interactions leads us to develop poor connections and continue to allow negative or toxic people into our lives. You have to be the curator of your room—of your life.
Focus On Your Flame
Ivan also talked about the importance of focus in your life, of avoiding distractions. “In order to be successful at anything you do, especially in the professional world, you have to focus on your flame, not your wax. People who grind away at ‘wax’ jobs use up all of their energy on things they aren’t passionate about. Focusing on your ‘flame’ means focusing your energy and your time on the things you’re passionate about, whatever that might be.”
Let’s say that a colleague comes to you with an investment opportunity, but it’s not an area that you’re passionate about. You don’t need to make up a bunch of complicated excuses for why you can’t invest. Just be honest. But be tactful. Now you have the time and the energy to focus on the projects or opportunities that really fire you up.
Fill Your Room With The Things You Value
According to Ivan, the bottom line is this: you need to fill your room with the people, experiences, and situations that align with your values. Steve pointed out that sometimes people have trouble deciding on or verbalizing exactly what their values are. Ivan responded that if that’s the case, you can instead ask yourself: “What are my deal-breakers? What are the things that I find totally unacceptable to have in my life?”
This goes for everything from the types of people you can’t work with to the types of treatment you’ll accept from servers in a restaurant. Keep a mental checklist of the things that are deal-breakers and avoid people and situations that could introduce those deal-breakers into your room.
To learn more, check out Ivan’s book, Who’s in Your Room?: The Secret to Creating Your Best Life.
Disclosure: The opinions expressed are those of the interviewee and not necessarily of the radio show. Interviewee is not a representative of the radio show. Investing involves risk and investors should carefully consider their own investment objectives and never rely on any single chart, graph or marketing piece to make decisions. Content provided is intended for informational purposes only, is not a recommendation to buy or sell any securities, and should not be considered tax, legal, investment advice. Please contact your tax, legal, financial professional with questions about your specific needs and circumstances. The information contained herein was obtained from sources believed to be reliable, however their accuracy and completeness cannot be guaranteed. All data are driven from publicly available information and has not been independently verified by the radio show.
Steve Pomeranz: Do you ever have trouble saying no to people, trouble getting out of awkward conversations? I know I do. As a matter of fact, I hate to say no, and sometimes I find myself avoiding a situation because I know I will have to say no. By the way, I’m not alone. I’ve read even that Warren Buffett hates to say no, and he will also avoid situations or meeting people if a no is going to be in the conversation.
Well, folks, relief is in sight. My guest, Dr. Ivan Misner, is all over this. He is the Founder and Chief Visionary Officer of BNI, which is the world’s largest business networking organization. He’s a New York Times bestselling author. He’s written 24 books, including one of his latest books, Who Is in Your Room? He’s also a columnist for entrepreneur.com. Ivan, welcome to the program.
Dr. Ivan Misner: Thanks. It’s great to be on.
Steve Pomeranz: First, why do you think it’s so hard for some of us to say no, even when it’s to our own detriment?
Dr. Ivan Misner: I think people generally like to say yes. They want to help. They want to be supportive. Not everybody, but most people, I’ve found, want to say yes. They’ve found that they’ve not really developed the skills in how to say no, without sounding like a jerk or worse.
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah, right. Especially in business, you want it to all be positive, and you don’t want to burn your bridges and all these things. You don’t know how a person’s going to take it, so you don’t want to say it too sharply, and so on. Let’s talk about some ways to say no and, like you said, not come across like a jerk. Give us some… I guess, these are excuses or reasons, but I guess, in a sense, they’ve got to all be true.
Dr. Ivan Misner: Well, there’s some techniques that we have in the book, Who’s in Your Room? Let me start with the first one, and it’s my favorite one. I really like this. If I say yes to that, I’m afraid I’d let you down.
Steve Pomeranz: Oh.
Dr. Ivan Misner: That is a really powerful technique to basically say no to someone. You don’t even use the word no. You know what? I’d love to do that, but if I said yes to you, I’m afraid I’d let you down and then talk about why. Maybe it’s bandwidth or it’s not your area of expertise, or whatever the reason is, be candid with them, but it’s absolutely my favorite technique in saying no.
Now, I like to then support that, whenever possible, with a second technique. The second technique is to refer them to someone who is more qualified to handle what it is they’re asking for. They’re better suited or they’re more interested in it. You don’t have to use that first one, but I like to use that first one and the second one in combination, especially being the Founder of BNI, which is a networking organization. I like to refer people.
Don’t refer someone just to get them off your back or to get somebody off your back and turn them onto somebody else. There’s a lot of people that I meet, where I can’t help them with something, but I know somebody who might be able to, and so I make the connection. I’m a connector. That actually works really well because the person just needs what they need, and if there’s someone better suited to it, they’re generally happy to do that.
Steve Pomeranz: Why is it so important in a person’s personal life, not only business but personal, to be able to say no, well, to be able to say no?
Dr. Ivan Misner: The premise of the book that we wrote is really about the people that you have in your life. Imagine you live your life in one room and that one room has only one door. That one door is an enter-only door, so when people come into your life or into your room, they’re there forever. You can never get them out. It’s a metaphor. It’s a little scary, but the truth is that when people are in your life, they’re there in your head forever, and so you need to learn how to say no to people or to situations that aren’t part of your mission or your purpose or the things that excite you and make you enjoy life.
Steve Pomeranz: Interesting, so your head is like a special club that you’re only going to allow certain people in.
Dr. Ivan Misner: Yeah, well, that’s very true. People say to me, “Well, I’ve gotten them out of my life.” Well, okay, I want you to think, play with me here. If you’re listening to this, play with me. Think about somebody you got out of your life. They were in your life, but you got them out because they were toxic, they were difficult, whatever it was. I’m not going to make you name somebody, but do you have somebody in mind?
Steve Pomeranz: Oh, boy.
Dr. Ivan Misner: Long list, is it?
Steve Pomeranz: Just a couple, couple hundred, I think.
Dr. Ivan Misner: Well, now think about what they did to you that made you upset, and you’re glad they’re out of your life.
Steve Pomeranz: Right.
Dr. Ivan Misner: If you can think of them, they’re still in your head, and if they’re still in your head, they’re still in your room. We interviewed Daniel Amen, Dr. Daniel Amen, neuroscientist. He did PBS specials. One of the things he told us was that the experiences that you have with people, their fingerprints are all over your brain for the rest of your life. Learning how to have discernment to bring people into your life and learning how to say no, when they are in your life, is really… These are important skills.
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah, so some people are stuck with their own lives, and maybe one of the reasons is that they have other people’s thumbprints all over their brain, in terms of neural connections, and it’s hard to undo them. It takes a lot of work, I guess-
Dr. Ivan Misner: Yeah, it does.
Steve Pomeranz: In order to do that. That’s a whole different show, I suppose, but this idea that your head is your room, and they are still in the room, even though they’re gone from your life, and they’re not really stimulating any new activity, the old activity, the old connections, are still there. Is that a good way to put it?
Dr. Ivan Misner: It is, and we make decisions based on the experiences that we’ve had in our life, both good and bad. We may, say, notice something because of a bad experience that we had in the past, and so that experience is still in your head. It might be a completely different experience with a different individual, but we’re still stuck in that story that we have going on in our head, those fingerprints that you’re talking about. You’ve just got to learn discernment to learn how to say no, to learn how to let certain people into your room, and then you’ve got to draw a line in the sand for those who are in your room, or in your life, and say, “You may be in my life, but your baggage does not have to be here.” There are things that you can do to get them to leave that baggage at the door.
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah, so if you’re really protecting your future… one way to look at that, right?
Dr. Ivan Misner: Yeah.
Steve Pomeranz: Knowing that-
Dr. Ivan Misner: You’re curating your room. You’re the curator of the life that you have.
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah, yeah, I like the room analogy. I mean, I don’t like the one door in. I always want an escape valve, but let’s… For this metaphorical purposes, I think it’s a good image because I’ll tell you, people will come to me and ask me for things or present ideas, and I might find them exciting. I’m the kind of person that likes to do a lot of different things. In a sense, when I get excited, I then get distracted on what I had been working on originally, and it dilutes what I’ve been doing. Talk to that, to some degree.
Dr. Ivan Misner: Yeah, that’s a common problem, particularly with business people. I’ve been running one company, now, for 35 years, and one of the things I’ve seen with successful people is that they learn how to do six things a thousand times, not a thousand things six times. The people who get that… It doesn’t have to be six, by the way. It could be five. It could be seven. It’s a handful of things, and you do it over and over and over. You do that, and you do it really well. You can have great success at whatever it is that you’re doing, whether you’re talking about charitable work, business work, whatever it is. You can be successful at it.
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah, I’m afraid I get bored too easily, doing the same six things continually. I remember, when I first got into the investment business, I was a complete novice. They put me on the phone, and they said, “Here’s a list of people to call.” Actually, back then I was offering municipal bonds. There was a guy next to me, and all day long, he would hit that list, and he would call day after day after day. I would look at him, and I’d go, this is insane. I could never do that.
Dr. Ivan Misner: Yeah, right.
Steve Pomeranz: I’d make 10 calls. I’d be exhausted, have to go have some-
Dr. Ivan Misner: All right, so let me tie some other piece to six things a thousand times.
Steve Pomeranz: Go ahead.
Dr. Ivan Misner: This is just as important. It’s very important that you work in your flame and not in your wax. Now, when somebody’s in their flame, they’re on fire. They’re excited. They love what they’re doing. You can hear it in their voice. You can see it in the way they behave.
Dr. Ivan Misner: When they’re working in their wax, they hate it. It’s taking all their energy away. You can hear that in their voice. You can see that in the way they behave. People have to find what is their flame and work in that flame over and over and over again. By the way, sometimes a flame can become wax.
I ran my company for 30 years. I was running the company for 30 years, and some of the stuff that I used to love to do, I didn’t love to do so much anymore, and so I had to find someone to do those things, so that I could do the things that I’m so passionate about, which, by the way, is doing interviews. I love doing interviews. That’s one of my pieces of flame. If you can do that, and do that a thousand times, that’s a win-win.
Steve Pomeranz: Well, Dr. Ivan Misner is in our room at the moment, and we’re just talking about his new book, Who’s in Your Room?: The Secret to Creating Your Best Life. Let’s get back to this idea of saying no.
Dr. Ivan Misner: Yeah.
Steve Pomeranz: I like number five, which is don’t Seinfeld it.
Dr. Ivan Misner: Yeah, don’t Seinfeld it. One of the really funny things about the old TV series, Seinfeld, was how the characters would go off on some crazy, complicated subject, their usual ruse, and end up getting in more trouble than if they’d just been candid to start with. I mean, they give excuses, like I can’t do that. My cat needs a whiskerectomy. I’ve got to get going or whatever it is.
Steve Pomeranz: A whiskerectomy, yeah.
Dr. Ivan Misner: It’s craziness, and they end up getting into more trouble. Yeah, don’t Seinfeld it. Be honest. Be direct, but be tactful.
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah, this idea of, well, the Seinfeld is extreme, but obviously, I think we all do that, to some extent. We’re kind of just… because we don’t know how to say, “I’m afraid that I’d let you down,” and, “Let me refer you to somebody.” Sometimes change and success can come from just two simple ideas, like the ones you mentioned, so we lie.
Dr. Ivan Misner: Yeah, and there are other things. I mean, you can… One of the things that I like to do is to say, “Look, that’s not really my mission,” or, “That’s not what I do best.” I’ll have somebody who wants me to do something, and maybe… Let’s say, it’s a charitable cause.
Dr. Ivan Misner: I had somebody come to me on a charitable cause not long ago. Great cause, loved it, fantastic, just wasn’t my focus. My focus in charitable causes are children and education, and so I said to the person, “This is a fantastic cause. Let me refer you to somebody who I think might be interested in that, but it’s not my flame. It’s not what I’m excited about. I try to focus on children’s causes.” You know, he got that. He was disappointed, but he got it. He respected that position, and it was not a problem, and I certainly didn’t burn a bridge with him.
Steve Pomeranz: What do you say to people who won’t take no for an answer?
Dr. Ivan Misner: Yeah, so let me… That oftentimes is the baggage thing, where you’re drawing a line in the sand, and they’re not taking no for an answer. Let me give you a great example. This one’s in the book, from my coauthor, Rick Sapio. Rick’s mother, when she was alive, she was very caustic, and she would just go off. He had seven brothers and sisters. She would start complaining about the brothers and sisters. He called her every Sunday, and one Sunday, he said to her, “Mom, I love you, but when you start talking about one of us, it doesn’t make for a great conversation, so starting next week, when you start complaining about my brothers and sisters, I’m going to say, ‘Mom, I love you. I look forward to talking to you next week. Bye,’ and I’m going to hang up.”
The next week, man, two minutes into the conversation, she was on a rant, and he says, “Mom, love you. Look forward to talking to you next week. Bye,” hangs up. He did that three weeks in a row, a little longer, a little longer. He said to me, “Ivan, the last two years of my mother’s life were the best years I ever had with her because we had mature, adult conversations. Now, everything wasn’t wine and roses. There were problems, but she wasn’t caustic anymore. I drew a line in the sand, and I would not accept that behavior.” That’s the kind of thing you’ve got to do.
Steve Pomeranz: If it’s a business situation, and someone doesn’t take no, what do you do, you just try to be polite, you smile? Give me some phrases I can use.
Dr. Ivan Misner: Sure, one of the… Here’s one that I get all the time in my company, in BNI. We’re a referral organization. I have people say to me, “Wow, referrals are really good, but you need to teach your members how to sell. They get the referral. They don’t know how to sell.” What I say is, “That’s a great mission. It’s just not our mission. Our mission is to help people increase each other’s business through a structured referral program, not sales training, and so there are much better people who could do sales training.” Then I specifically name two or three great sales trainers, who are well-known, and I say, “They are way better at it than I could ever be, and that’s not our mission, but it’s a good one. Go to them.”
Again, I refer them, but it’s a focus on mission. It’s not my mission. That’s a different mission. People, in their personal life, are accepting other people’s vision of what they should be doing, instead of their own vision.
Steve Pomeranz: Well, I think that’s a big deal, and so if you’re saying yes, and you don’t want to, but you’re saying it anyway, you’re really, literally, letting someone else’s vision into your room.
Dr. Ivan Misner: Exactly.
Steve Pomeranz: That can really change things and actually lead to serious complications.
Dr. Ivan Misner: And doesn’t it put you in your wax, if it’s not what you’re passionate about?
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah, then it’s someone else’s flame.
Dr. Ivan Misner: Yeah, it’s somebody else’s flame, exactly.
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah, yeah, what happens when moths fly into someone else’s flame?
Dr. Ivan Misner: They burn. Hey, that’s a great example.
Steve Pomeranz: Not good things.
Dr. Ivan Misner: I’ll put that in the second edition.
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah, you can just give me a little mention. That’s all.
Dr. Ivan Misner: I will. You’ve got it.
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah, because I know you’ve never heard it before. Listen, so we’re learning how to say no. We’re learning how to conceptualize this idea that your mind is your room, but sometimes it’s important not to become addicted to the word no.
Dr. Ivan Misner: Yeah, yeah, you don’t want to become addicted to the word no. Sometimes it can maybe feel a little bit freeing, but it doesn’t serve you to say no all the time. What you want to do is look for those opportunities that are your flame, that’s part of your mission, that does excite you. You want to say yes to those things whenever possible, and when you can’t, referring them to someone else, being that connector. You want to be the person who connects people to other people. When that happens, then you’re a masterful networker because you’re helping people. That’s really what networking should be about is helping people.
Steve Pomeranz: All right, I get that, but sometimes, you say in your book, that you ask people what their values are, and you get crickets. People just haven’t thought about it. We don’t really have much time, but let’s just talk a little bit how to figure out what your room should consist of.
Dr. Ivan Misner: Well, the easiest way to start thinking about values, and there’s lots of instruments on the Internet, and we have something in the book to help you figure out your values, but the easiest way to start is with deal-breakers because when you say, “What are your values?” It is the cricket moment, but when you say, “What are your deal-breakers? What are the things that just drive you nuts about somebody in a business or professional or personal relationship?” People, boom, they just have it right off the top of their head. I bet that one’s easy. You probably have a… Give me a deal-breaker for you.
Steve Pomeranz: Give me a what? Give you a what?
Dr. Ivan Misner: A deal-breaker, something that this is not acceptable behavior in my life.
Steve Pomeranz: Well, gee, there’s a lot. There’s really lots of them. Actually, I’m-
Dr. Ivan Misner: I’ll give you one, and you… while you’re thinking.
Steve Pomeranz: Okay, hold on a second. I just want… I want a space, so that I can input the crickets, and the sound effects a little bit later on.
Dr. Ivan Misner: I’m sorry. Deal-breakers are usually pretty easy.
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah, go ahead.
Dr. Ivan Misner: Here’s a deal-breaker for me: people with drama, people that are dripping in drama.
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah, absolutely, I agree.
Dr. Ivan Misner: We all have drama, right? I’m talking about the person that’s all the time. I didn’t realize that until I started thinking about my values and what was important to me and the kind of relationships I wanted, and so start with deal-breakers and then start thinking about values. You can do the values by just taking any instrument that has a whole list of words, where you’re picking the ones that are the top words that you want to live. You can have values that you strive for, not necessarily… You’re not quite living those values yet, but you want those values, but then you have to behave those values.
Steve Pomeranz: Well, we’re out of time. We just hit the tip of the iceberg, but this is a great interview, really interesting, Ivan. I’m so glad that you’ve agreed to come on. The book is, Who’s in Your Room?: The Secret to Creating Your Best Life. Once again, my guest, Dr. Ivan Misner.
As you know, our mission is always to educate our listeners, and I remind you week after week, segment after segment, that we love to get your questions because we do. These are complicated times, which makes for complicated topics, and I’m always here to answer them.
If you have questions about your portfolio or your kids, your kids’ kids, your retirement, your 401(k), or how to better take care of your family, anything financial on your mind, we’re here to try to answer those questions for you, so go to stevepomeranz.com, no T in Pomeranz, just stevepomeranz.com. Go to the contact section, and let me know how we can help. That’s stevepomeranz.com. Ivan, thank you so much for joining me.
Dr. Ivan Misner: Steve, thank you. I appreciate being on.