How busy can you get? As a business owner or an employee, it can be tempting to say yes to everything. This is not good. Learning to say no is a skill most of us have to develop, suggests Moira Dunne, from beproductive.ie.
During my first job as a consultant, my client told me that I had the ability to say no while making other people feel good about it. I think it was a compliment? It wasn’t something I planned, but when I analysed my approach, I realised I was protecting my work time so I could deliver on my commitments. I always tried to help, but if I couldn’t at the time, I would explain and offer an alternative.
“If your boss insists that you still do everything, this can be a subtle way to highlight that your boss is being unreasonable, maybe unintentionally.”
Saying yes is natural
For most of us saying yes comes more naturally than saying no. People genuinely want to help people. We want to be known as “a team player” and don’t want to be difficult. We don’t want to appear overloaded with work either as if we can’t cope with our role. So learning to say no is a skill most of us have to develop.
Saying no by saying yes
So how do we do it? Well, the best way to say ‘no’ is actually to say ‘yes.’ By that I mean to say no to dropping everything at the time of the request but say yes to the time or approach that suits you better. Take control. But do this professionally with consideration so that the requester understands and is happy with your alternative suggestion. And then follow through.
The requests we receive loosely fall into two categories:
1. A request from an employee or colleague for help or advice
2. A request from your boss to do extra work over what was agreed
A request from a colleague for help or advice
If you can’t help straight away, offer an alternative time that suits both schedules. Alternatively, consider if you are the only one who can help? If help is needed more urgently, consider if you can direct the requester to a report or training material or another expert.
“Of course, there are times when we need just to drop what we are doing and help.”
A request from your boss to do extra work
If you are already working on a plan that was agreed with your boss, then you are in a good position to negotiate. Offer to do the additional work but point out: “This is what I am working on based on the plan we agreed. I will happily do this new work, but I may need to push out one of the original tasks.”
So your objective is to get approval to free up time to do the new task. That way if one of the original tasks doesn’t get done, there is a common understanding why.
If your boss insists that you still do everything, at least you have provided a reminder of your current workload based on the agreed plan. This can be a subtle way to highlight that your boss is being unreasonable, maybe unintentionally.
Tone of the message
As with most business interactions the tone of delivery will greatly affect how your message is received. Find your own words. Use your judgement about how best to position your response. Consider the other persons’ perspective. If you are clear in your head about why you are responding the way you are, it will start to come naturally.
Of course, there are times when we need just to drop what we are doing and help. Again we have to use our judgement and knowledge of our work situation to identify these times. This will not be a time for alternatives or rescheduling.
Learn to say no – five steps
- Strive to say yes if you can
- If you can’t, explain your reasons professionally
- Provide an alternative
- Be committed to the alternative
- Negotiate priorities if saying yes
Saying no can increase your credibility
Saying no from time to time can increase your credibility, as long as it’s done in a professional way. Saying no (or yes with conditions) can sometimes be the right thing to do for your role, your team, and your organisation.
Saying no successfully is all about using your judgement. It’s a trade-off between being helpful and being in control of your work life.