Most people would agree that being clear about our boundaries, establishing ground rules in our relationships and making sure that we have enough time to do what is important well are laudable aims. The reality is that having those conversations can be tricky. Getting the words and sentences formed in our head in the right order is hard enough and getting them out of our mouths is even harder, especially when we think our reputation with the boss or within the organisation might be at stake. I’m a fan of saying “no”, it’s led to me getting more of the life I want. Some of the things I have said “no” to have been deal breakers, things I will absolutely not do or need walk away from. I know too, that most requests aren’t this kind of deal breaker and deserve a slightly different response.
So maybe it is time to give you my top 3 tips for saying “No”.
1. Forget about saying “No”
Reframe the whole conversation as “negotiating and offering alternative solutions”. See how that immediately lessens the feelings of guilt and fear? “No” sounds such a harsh pushy word. It’s easy for the old gremlins to grip into our shoulders, “they’ll hate me”, “they’ll fire me”, “they’ll never ask me again”. Negotiating sounds softer, more reasonable, give and take, win-win. The gremlin claws loosen and now we can relax and think clearly. Save saying “no” for your deal breakers.
2. Buy time to think
Give yourself breathing space and stand back by saying “Give me a moment to think”.
Think about the benefits of saying “Yes”. Maybe you are at the start of your career and it would be good to be seen to do the work you have been asked to do, even if it does mean staying late. Maybe it is work you would love to do that raises your skill, knowledge, profile and in the long run it will be worth every second. Even with a long “things to do” list, you might be able to make time for this if it is important, not so urgent work, that gets you closer to your long term goal.
Think about the costs. What’s at stake if you say “Yes”? Maybe another important deadline would slip, you’d let another colleague down, spend time away from home and those you love will suffer…again or nothing you do will get done well? Stress and overwhelm.
3. Negotiate and offer alternative solutions
Check their deadline. Explain that you can’t meet their deadline with your current workload. Acknowledge their dilemma. Tell them you could help if the deadline is changed. Check the priority of the work and if it’s your boss who is asking, outline your current project deadlines and ask for help re-prioritising so that you can fit new work in. Suggest another person who might be able to help. Present another way of reaching the outcome they want that doesn’t involve you, right this minute.If you’d like to be asked again, let them know that you would like to help in the future.
Finally, remember to stay interested, neutral and positive throughout.