Learn When to Say No
All day every day, most of us are fielding requests. The asks can be formal or informal, large or small. They’re not just from direct bosses and teammates but from all over the organizational chart. Add to this the demands of external stakeholders, family, friends, and acquaintances, and sometimes even complete strangers. The requests keep coming – across tables and through Zoom screens, by phone, email, and instant message.
You must therefore learn when and how to say both no and yes. A considered no protects you. The right yes allows you to serve others, make a difference, collaborate successfully, and increase your influence. You want to gain a reputation for saying no at the right times for the right reasons and make every single yes really count. Tulgan (2020) proposes a framework to tackle the issue how do you do it? The framework has three parts: assess the ask, deliver a well-reasoned no, and give a yes that sets you up for success.
Assess the ask: when you say yes or no to a request, you’re deciding where to invest your personal resources, so give the choice the same careful consideration. That starts with insisting on a well-defined ask. You should clarify every aspect of the request by answering the following questions: 1. Date and time of the request? 2. Who is the asker? 3. What is the deliverable being requested? Be specific. 4. By when does it need to be accomplished? 5. What resources will be required? 6. Who is the source of authority on this issue, and do you have that person’s or group’s approval? 7. What are the possible benefits? 8. What are the obvious and hidden costs?
Deliver a well-reasoned no: A thoughtful no, delivered at the right time can save time and trouble for everybody down the road. A good no is all about timing and logic. There are three important aspects related to this issue. The first is when there are procedures, guidelines, or regulations that prohibit you from doing something – or someone has already made it clear that this category of work is off-limits to you, at least for now. The second aspect is when the request is simply not feasible. The third aspect is the most complex one as it isn’t always clear at first. You need to make a judgement on the likelihood of your success, on the potential return on investment, and on fit with your and your organization’s priorities and sometimes the answer to the request is maybe or not yet.
An effective yes: Every good no makes room for a better yes – one that adds value, builds relationships, and enhances your reputation. The key to a great yes is clear communication and a focused plan for execution.
Most people have too much to do and too little time. Saying yes to request from bosses teammates, and others can make you feel important but can be a prescription for burnout. The only way to be sustainably successful is to get really good at saying no in a way that makes people feel respected and to say yes only when your reasoning is sound and you have a clear plan of attack.
How hard do you find it to say no? What is the best advice you could give to your colleagues on how to say no? On what basis do you say yes to a request that you receive? In general, do you feel overburdened with requests in your professional/personal everyday life?
Tulgan, B. (2020). Learn When to Say No. Harvard Business Review, 98(5), 135-139.
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