Learning to Say “No”

Say No3

We’ve all made our share of solid career moves. But, as far as time management goes — many if us freely admit our struggles. Last year I published The Ugly Truth About Time Management, partially based on my own flawed relationship with time. (Interestingly, it has been a very well read here at The Office Blend). We all grapple with decisions concerning time. Ultimately, time — and our relationship with it — is critical.

I thought we could probe the topic a little further. Possibly scratch a bit further beneath the surface. (Examine the underbelly of time management and see what is lurking there). Which leads me to an important time management issue: Learning to say “no”.

I find this difficult at times, as most of us do — even though I’ve had years of practice. Many of us feel a deep sense of anxiety with the prospect of saying “no”, for various reasons. But, saying “no” is quite vital to our long-term success. If we don’t treat our own time as a precious resource, we can find ourselves without adequate “bandwidth” when we need it most. This sets the stage for a myriad of work life problems.

We’d all like to think that “all in” when it comes to helping others — and developing healthy workplace relationships should be a priority. However you’ll find the need to draw the line in some situations. Setting boundaries is simply required, setting the stage for healthy “Give and take”.

The truth is, learning to say “no” does become easier with practice. (You can rehearse a set of diplomatic responses, so they become second nature.) The trick is recognizing the situations that clearly deserve that response. So, let’s start the “No” motor going, and discuss the biases we bring to the table and the types of individuals we might come across.

You’ll likely recognize some of these:

The Preconceptions:

  • The “Angel” Trap. I get it, you want to be nice. Nice people are…well nice. People who say no, not so nice. The flaw here? It’s just not true. Savvy business people say no quite a bit, and many of them are great people. Why? They want to stay in business. You are the only one who suffers, if you don’t make it clear that your time is valuable. You have to get over this.
  • Every “yes” is equal. Nope. Not even close. You have to really consider what the “yes” implies. Is your “yes” a quick “here you go” or more likened to a life-long commitment. Think on this.
  • The “I’m missing out” Trap. It can be in our best interest to say “yes” to opportunities — however, you’ll need to weight the time investment against the potential outcomes. If you never say no, you’ll likely become over-committed in a hurry. That is a serious problem.
  • The “Bad things will happen if” trap. Many of us live in fear that if we say “no” our careers will suffer. The wrong person might be angered,and this may lead to dire consequences. But, in some cases we can say “no”, we just have not explored the option. Obviously, consider who is doing the asking, but don’t say “yes”, instinctively. If you do comply to a request from a superior, that you really cannot deliver — a whole new set of problems can arise.

The “Time Offenders”:

  • The Greedy. You know this individual. They only contact you when they want a favor, and the relationship is not even close to being considered reciprocal. Enough said. This one should be easy. Run the other way.
  • The Narcissists. Wow, they are “so, so busy” — so could you complete this entirely worthless task for them? Ok, offer a little rope. Offer your help as long as you feel comfortable, then see if the favor can be returned in some small way. If they don’t ever give back, you’ll feel justified to saying “no” the next time around.
  • The Pilferers. They’ll steal you blind time-wise, if you let them. They’d like to “pick your brain” and hear your best thoughts on a topic or challenge. The problem is this: as soon as they accomplish this they are gone. It’s shocking. Be mindful. These individuals are both smooth and savvy.
  • The Thankless. The group comprises the absolute worst of the worst. They will ask for your valuable time (which you freely give), and never, ever says “thanks”. It hurts doesn’t it? Remember this the next time around.

When all is said and done, if you would like to help someone and are offered a sincere “Thank you” — don’t say “You’re welcome” in response. Take the advice offered here and respond with the following,

“I know you would do the same for me.”

Anything to add to the conversation? Share your thoughts.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She also writes at LinkedIn.

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4 thoughts on “Learning to Say “No”

  1. Is nice reading from you for the first time, have lots of your write-ups to go through, with these there is passion to make out time with you on a daily basis, for I need your cross breeding of knowledge. Is nice to object to certain demand, in a bid to give self some atom of priority. There should be some atom of love of self, in relationships with others. preserving the dignity of the self in you, is a level of consciousness. Good attitude /attributes to inculcate in life & leaving.

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  2. You are right. Good article!!!
    Fortunately I’ve had to deal with all of these 4 types of time offenders. It wasn’t fortunate when happening, but in the long run I learned.

    And the last tip, I love it. From now on I definitely won’t say “you’re welcome” anymore; people really get the wrong message when they hear that…

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  3. A lot of these examples have to do with co-workers taking advantage, which is common, but the requests come from all quarters — work, bosses, community organizations, churches and even family members — and because they are all valid and important requestors, they are the hardest to refuse. Without being able to say no when necessary and appropriate, you incur self-inflicted wounds … and end up doing what is important to other people, instead of accomplishing what is important to you.

    I taught myself this when pursuing accreditation in my field; at about month 11 of a 12-month process I found myself having to request an extension — and knew that if I didn’t say “no!” to a number of existing — and all new — demands on my time, that I’d never accomplish my goal. I did say “no” and I did earn accreditation.

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