How did you respond the last time someone at work asked you to do something that you didn’t want to, couldn’t do—or didn’t have time to do?
Congratulations if you told the truth and said, “No.”
And then if you had a conversation with the person that provided you both with some measure of choice and leeway, supporting your relationship as well as your organizational objectives, then please congratulate yourself!
If you said anything else, keep reading as we unpack this whole “No.” thing. Next time, you’ll have another choice.
What stops us from saying No when we’re feeling it?
That simple question gets right to the heart of the matter. The global #1 reason is: We Believe We Should Say Yes.
There are a variety of ways this belief translates across cultures, yet it all boils down to some version of a sense of obligation, whether it’s to a colleague, friend or family member. There’s also the belief that saying, “Yes” will make us look good or increase our status in this particular professional or social tribe. Sometimes there’s even the belief that there simply isn’t a good enough reason to say no—that our lack of interest or availability simply doesn’t qualify.
Here’s the bad news: when we say “Yes” when we mean “No” we open ourselves to a flood of problems, which can, at the very least, weaken other people’s trust in us—and at worst, ruin our reputation.
It can happen to the best of us, and here’s why: We say yes because we believe we should and other people believe our “yes” because they want or need something from us; they take us at our word. Then when they come back to us to get what they asked for, we’re stuck having to explain why we didn’t do what we said we would—unless, of course, we take the option to disappear without a trace.
So how can we do this differently?
We can use “No.” as a complete sentence.
Here’s how it works: The next time you’re asked to do something that you know you can’t—or you won’t—simply look at the person, smile and say, “No.”
Warning: This will confuse the people who are used to you saying yes, so have some patience with them when they doubt your response and ask you again. At this point, you can make a Simple Shift™ by getting curious.
Let’s assume for a moment that this is a genuine request that starts with “Can you… or Will you…” You can really contribute to your relationship with them (after telling them the truth) by asking them, “What do you really need right now?”
Odds are high it’s typically bigger than simply getting you to do something that you know you can’t do right now.
Your being willing to support them—even though you can’t do what they’re asking this time—can help them come up with alternatives they might not have considered. It creates a different kind of conversation that supports your collaboration as well as your organizational objectives.
What if I really can’t say No?
There’s an alternative strategy that comes in handy when the person making the request is senior to you or in some position where you feel like you don’t have a choice.
The Simple Shift™ here is to realize that you always have a choice—and that helps you to get creative. Even though your answer to this person’s request is still “No,” you have to get that message across in a more creative way.
One possibility is to simply tell the truth. If you can’t do whatever it is because you don’t have enough time or other resources to accomplish their request, be up front about it and share your circumstances. “Right now, I’m doing X & Y, which are important (because/for/to…) Which of these can I walk away, to accommodate your request? I can’t do all three right now.”
Once again, you’re having a more powerful conversation that supports both of you as well as your organizational objectives. The next time you get a request you can’t accommodate, you can tell the truth and say No—and see where it leads you!