I admit I’ve struggled with the ‘N’ word in the past. I’ve found it difficult to decline when my boss asked me to take on one more task on my never ending to do list, or when I’ve been volunteered for projects by others who think that my skillset would be useful, or when I’ve been asked for a favour for a good cause. It’s taken me a lifetime to become comfortable with the N word, namely ‘No’, because my default is ‘Yes’
My association has been that yes is positive and no is negative. And I’ve never wanted to be associated with the later. Research shows that women are expected to be collaborative and can be penalised when they don’t live up to that expectation, so saying no could have harsher consequences for us. So what to do, burn the midnight hours working on tasks that you shouldn’t be or make enemies?
I’d like to offer a third way, here are my top 5 tips that I shared at my courageous conversations workshop last week on how to say ‘No’ positively:
1. Crystal clear clarity
At the beginning of each year, I write a list of the type of work I want to accept and the work I’d rather decline. I detail clear reasons for each and how that connects with my goals. That way the reasons are easily articulated and already formed when I am asked. There will always be the odd exception, but at least if you do this you will have the list to reference back to.
2. Get your ‘No’ in early
You’re attending a meeting and you know that the attendees are going to try and pin some actions on you, what do you do? I suggest that you make your position clear from the outset, for example you could say ‘I am delighted to be part of this group, I want to make it clear that I won’t be able to take any actions on at the moment due to my workload, do you still want me to be present’ you’ve got your ‘No’ in early.
3. Put a value on it
If you don’t value your time, how can others? If you actually put a monetary value on your time, say£10, £50, £100, £500 per hour it will make you think twice about giving it away. Calculate how much time you’d give to the project versus the reward, it’s not all about financial reward, but there should be some benefit to you or a cause important to you as a result.
4. Stall them
Saying yes could be a bad habit that you need to break, so buy time. How about saying ‘Can I come back to you, give me 24 hours, I just need to take stock of my current commitments and confirm’. This way you have time to actually consider what you need to do and formulate your response.
Think of it as a marriage proposal, let them down gently, be sincere but firm, after all you wouldn’t want to be stuck with the wrong partner for the rest of your life because you couldn’t say no, would you?
5. Help them to help you
Lastly, if your boss or client won’t accept your ‘No’ sit down with him or her
and go through your workload to understand what will be ditched to make space for this new project. Help them to appreciate your current commitments fully and that something will have to give.
Practice, practice, practice, get good at saying ‘No’ and your Yes’s will mean so much more.