Post by Patricia Hewitt, contributing Women On Business writer
How does that sound to you? Do you feel uncomfortable? Empowered? Anxious? How you answer these questions should tell you a lot about your ability to be successful. Okay, nothing new here; when I searched the term “ability to say no”, I received 32 million hits. Psychologists, spiritualists, coaches, and experts of all kinds cited the importance of being able to say no, along with everyday people like us. So, why is this so hard? Consider the situations you’ve been in that would have turned out much differently, if you had just said no.
The inspiration for this post was kindly given to me by my sister, a college professor, who had recently told a colleague that she would not be able to work on a project with them, and very proudly told me that she actually said no to them. She realized that all of her hemming and hawing was going to result in her getting drawn into something that would do nothing more than waste her time. So, that very day, she called this person and said sorry, no can do (of course, in a much more professional manner).
Techniques to Saying No
Technique to saying no #1: Hoping that your hesitation will result in the other person going off someplace. This should be a legalized form of gambling. Instead, tell them clearly you will consider the offer and get back to them. Then call them after a reasonable time and say no.
Technique to saying no #2: Agreeing to sit in on a meeting just to see what’s going on. You will end up being assigned something, can’t say no in front of a group of people, and end up walking back to your office banging your head against the wall. Instead, when you receive the meeting invitation, press “declined”.
Technique to saying no #3: Signing up for a spot on a project team because you think it’s going to get you visibility in the company. If the project does not have funding or senior management support you are wasting your time. Instead, keep your mouth shout and go to lunch.
Technique to saying no #4: Agreeing to help a colleague because they tell you that you are the only person with the knowledge and skills that can do this job. Wow, you must be very important if no one in your company is able to do what you do. Instead, say “no thank you” and go in and ask your boss for a raise.
Ok, so a lot of this sounds pretty flippant, but I’m trying to use a bit of humor to make a serious point. In our professional lives we are constantly being asked to do things for other people. And in fact, often there is considerable pressure to say yes to these requests. However, in many cases there is really no good reason to raise your hand. By good reason, I mean a benefit to you. The reason my sister was so happy she finally said no is because the requestor was someone who was simply looking for someone else to do her work for her, and my sister would have received no professional benefit from participating. She knew this, but was still struggling to say no. This is how powerful our aversion is to the word “no”. Avoidance of it compels us to do things that we know we should not be doing.
One of the most important tips I can share with you about saying no is to stop before you speak. Take your time to consider any request and tell the asker, “I’ll get back to you.” Then, consider it in the context of what’s important to you. Put aside any personal or political near term pressures and hold the question up to the light of your day. The world will not end, you will not be fired, and you will not be excluded from ever participating in anything else ever again.
Repeat after me – “No, I Can’t.” Change is good.