Year of No // Fran Hauser, No doesn't have to be forever!

Fran not only an author but she is a startup investor, media executive and a vocal advocate for women. Best known for her role building PEOPLE.com – one of the biggest media brands online – Hauser made the leap to early stage investing in 2014.

What does No mean to you?
Fran: No means creating time and space to do what is most important. I want to take a positive spin on No.  

How do you differentiate a ‘No’ at home versus work?

When I say no in my personal life, as a mom with two kids in school, it is because I need to narrow in on what is my priority and what fulfills me.  There are so many volunteer opportunities at my boys’ school. I was an overachiever at one point when my oldest was in Kindergarten. I was the class Mom, I ran the fundraiser, ran the school store. [I was gasping at this list!] I was excited to be involved but I realized most things were outside of the classroom, away from the kids. Now, I’m more strategic about volunteering. I ask myself “What gets me into the school, interacting with the students and my kids?” I use that as my guiding principle to prioritize what I say yes or no to.

I also tried to be a Room Mom and have since learned that’s not where I shine. A guiding principle is like keeping yourself on the rails. How have you prioritized the saying Yes or No at work?

Fran: I apply this philosophy across my life. I do a lot of nonprofit work, which means I get lots of requests for help. I ask myself, ‘where do I want to spend my time’?   Years ago, I decided I wanted to support the women. It is so much easier to have a thoughtful ‘No’ when I get asked about supporting other nonprofit groups. I can write to them and say “I spend my energy and resources with women’s issues’.


What do you want to say yes to, ultimately?

Fran: I want to say yes to what matters! I’ve created boundaries over the years. I can now quickly identify if the nonprofit’s mission aligns to mine.

In the past when you haven’t been as clear, what stumbling blocks did you notice?

Fran: If I didn’t have clarity on saying yes or no, I would re-read the email request for weeks. It wasn’t a good use of my energy and it wasn’t helping the organization, either.

We’ve all been there, stewing on how to respond. Sometimes people or efforts pull at our heart strings. I align to values and times of the year that might be easier.

Your book mentions quick ways to say ‘No’ that are so incredibly kind and yet still to the point.

Fran: Yes, I outline ways to help you think through your reply of a “no” First you have to remember they are asking you for help.

  1. Start off your reply with a “thank you”,

  2. Just as critical- never apologize,   

  3. Let them know what you are working on quickly, “I’m currently focused on “writing a book” [insert your own focus here]. It doesn’t need to be a lengthy explanation.

  4. Actually say No!  For example, “I’m unable to do this” or “ I cannot join you”.

  5. Offer a positive spin with a kind ending. “Have a wonderful time, I wish you the best’.

I love how concise these are. I remember one text chain with a friend where I declined a spa day. I think I wrote a 15 sentence text!

Fran: Your friend didn’t need to know all of the details and the same applies in business. We need to be more confident in our No’s as women.

How do you say no to that inner critic? I know some weeks it really comes up for me.

Fran: I still have moments when I wonder if I belong at the table. My Imposter syndrome comes up when my inner dialogue says “these people are amazing. How am I at the same table with these experts?”

I have a conversation with myself. “What is the evidence I have as to why I should be at the table?”

I know I have value with all I’ve created based on tangible work I’ve done. I can look at big wins or my portfolio of companies and quiet the doubt.

When you are in those tense moments, it can be easy to get even more tense. How do you handle that?

Fran: You have to say something without agonizing over the perfect comment. Finding your voice helps your confidence! Women sit in meetings for an hour, feeling horrible and stewing over what to say. Free yourself from your inner critic and force yourself to speak up. What’s the worst thing that can happen?

If we turn the tables, what happens when people say No to you?

Fran: I have respect for people when they have said no. Everyone is driven by different things. What might be right for me isn’t the right fit for the next person.  I try not to take things personally.

You sit in an interesting spot as an angel investor; you have to say No often.

Fran: Yes, I’ve gotten comfortable saying No. I look at the important criteria for me and recognize if an opportunity aligns to that list. If not, I often say not, but offer them an alternative of someone who might be able to me a better match.

What’s the most important lesson about being told no?

Fran: If you don’t ask, you cannot get that promotion, or job, or investment or speaking engagement.

What advice would you give someone flexing that No muscle?

Fran: No doesn’t have to be forever!  I was just asked to be on a podcast and the next two months just do not work. I had to respond that I could not record anything until the summer. Negotiating is always an option!


Lynn Mull