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Hard Pass: What is Your Line in the Sand?


Years and years ago, as part of our contract with a client, we had an office in his offices. One of our full-time account managers, who managed the account, worked out of the office. She had been with Blue 2 just a few years, right out of college, and everyone loved her. She was the most accommodating person who ever worked for us, and I sometimes worried that she was too nice. She was the poster child for 'if you can be anything, be kind,' which is a ridiculous statement if you ask me; there are times to be kind and times not to be, and knowing the difference is a keystone to success and a happy life.


One day, she wasn't answering her phone. When she finally got back to me, the conversation went like this:


"You okay? You've been MIA."


"Yes, I'm good."


But I could tell something wasn't quite right.


"Where were you?"


"I don't want to say."


"Was it something for work?"


Silence. I knew she was upset.


"Seriously, can you tell me where you were?"


"I went to David's house." David was the CEO of the company where she was embedded.


"Really. Why?"


Pause. My heart was racing.


"He has unexpected guests coming tonight and he couldn't reach his housekeeper and asked me to go clean the bathroom for them."


I took a breath.


"Rachel, go back to your desk and pack it up. Leave the printer, but take the laptop and all your things, and take an Uber home. Do not speak to anyone. And leave behind anything you can't easily carry without someone asking you what is going on. I'll call you later. I'm so very sorry you felt you had to do that. It will never happen again."


After she was in the Uber, I texted him that we were resigning the account immediately and never returned his many calls and texts. Done and done.


She was harder. Did I make her feel she had to accommodate the client at all costs? We worked it out, and she stayed with us for more than a year after the incident. She is now running her own business. Successfully. And she has her lines in the sand. I know she does. We've discussed it over the years.


Do you know your Hard Pass? Your line in the sand? What you are and are not willing to do for a business win? For a client? To win the competitive bid? Do you ask yourself the question enough? Do you notice when you are close to the line, or when you should have said it?


A famous woman who is asked for her time, endorsement, and input many times each day recently said to me that she never says 'yes' in the room. Not even to her family. She says she will get back to them and takes real time to decide whether she wants to do it or not.


She said that if they are asking for something, like her to give a speech or accept an award, that is months away, she asks herself if it were a few days away would she say yes? She said she realized that if it's in the future, she would think she wanted to do it when she really didn't. So by making it later that week, she can better assess whether she wants to do it or not. She rarely says yes anymore, and she is all the happier and more productive for it.


I bought a hat that says 'Hard Pass' on it. I put it in my family group text, and my fabulous daughter, my successful-clear-with-her-boundaries daughter, who from my vantage point seems to have no issue saying no, immediately asked for the hat. I sent it to her and ordered another one.


The truth is, no matter how strong we are, the 'hard pass' for women is not always easy to decipher in time to decline. We want to do what others want. We want to go the distance to getting 'it' done - for clients, for family and friends, and for ourselves. 'Yes' is a winning word for us. It's part of the DNA of centuries of saying yes to everything that was expected of us.


Now, I carefully assess my 'yes.' I'm not afraid of the 'hard no,' which is not only a statement of 'don't even think of asking me to reconsider,' but is also a recognition of how 'hard' it is to say 'pass.' The Hard Pass. A key to a successful life, and something to assess often.


--Christine Merser, Managing Partner, Blue2 Media


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