How good are you at saying no?
One aspect which contributes to people feeling overwhelmed at work is not saying no. This simple two letter word can cause serious complex problems if not used appropriately. Why is such a little word, so hard to say? People I coach tell me it is because they don’t believe they can say no, they don’t have the right to, it is harsh or doesn’t fit in with their belief of being kind. They can feel very guilty if they say no. Other beliefs are that they won’t be liked, they will be seen as a failure or it will go against them.
The consequences of not saying no
Saying no is not being selfish or being unkind, it is self-preservation when you are overwhelmed. Saying yes when you know you should say no is not being kind to yourself or anyone else. I call this the Bob the Builder syndrome (Can you do this? Yes I can) and I know I am guilty of it myself at times.
Tony Crabbe, in Busy: How to thrive in a world of too much, tells how the Siamese Fighting Fish will feed itself to death, because it doesn’t know when to stop. In an age of excessive demands and information overload, too many people are damaging their physical and mental wellbeing by not stopping and saying no.
Managers can get a false perspective of what is truly achievable, because many employees do not say no. This can lead to unrealistic expectations, so it becomes a vicious cycle.
Who are you saying no to?
The first person you may need to say no to is yourself. Are you setting yourself unrealistic expectations of what you can achieve in a day and then beating yourself up for not achieving it? Understanding your true potential is vitally important in decision making. Otherwise, you can be like a battery which drains itself beyond its capacity to recharge.
There are lots of beliefs that drive us to keep saying yes to everything. These beliefs are not necessarily reality. We can choose to challenge their validity. As an example, is saying no really a sign of failure or weakness?
How good is your self-judgement?
One of the aspects measured in the Judgement Index is self image. This is your belief of what you can accomplish in your life and how realistic your goals and processes are to achieving that. It can also assess your self-care and assertiveness; amongst many other things.
How comfortable are you at saying no to yourself? What more do you need to say no to?
We also need to say no to others who are making unreasonable demands. The danger is that we feel we can’t, so we say yes even when we know we are unlikely to be able to do it. This does nothing for our integrity, respect or reputation in the long run, because we make promises we can’t keep. We let people down or work long into the night to make it happen, which can have serious consequences on our health and relationships.
Fairness is important, so saying no to one person and yes to another will not be looked on favourably. For example, I used to share a secretary with a very aggressive colleague. Her work got done and mine had to wait; until I pointed out the unfairness of this.
In this current era, it can be very difficult to say no to technology. Heaven forbid that we should say no to that pinging email, ringing phone or once in a lifetime offer flashing up, even if we are reading to our child, out with friends, or it’s 2 am!
How much are you a slave to the technological master?
“It’s only by saying ‘no’ that you can concentrate on things that are really important” Steve Jobs
When to say no
I am not suggesting you say no to everything, especially to legal, safety and company requirements. In an article of this size, it is not realistic to list all the times you could say no. In short, it is when you know that you cannot achieve what you are being asked to do, either because it is outside your remit, skills level, authority or capacity. You may be in the middle of something which has a deadline or you need to stay focused on.
Alternatively as a manager, it could be a request for time off, which would be unfair to others; or a task you know the other person is trying to avoid doing themselves. Ken Blanchard talks about taking on other people’s monkeys. Before you say yes to something, perhaps ask: ‘whose monkey is it?’
How you are saying no
Robert Cialdini in his book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion explains the powerful impact of the word ‘because’. It is quite reasonable to explain why you are saying no. If it is not a permanent no, but just for now: then it may be open to negotiation.
Obviously, the tone of voice and body language is important in how your no is received. This is where assertiveness comes in; and the message may need to be repeated. There will always be people who resent hearing no, but you have to accept that. You may not be liked for saying no, but you are more likely to be respected in the long term.
Leaders have an important role to play in setting the expectations for employees and giving them permission to say no when appropriate. It can be assumed they know this. There will be times when saying no is not an option, but hopefully, you are not someone who believes saying no is never an option.
As a leader, how well do you receive no messages? How clearly do your employees understand your expectations on this?
The saying no challenge
If you feel you need to say no more often, then I challenge you over the next month to:
- Listen when your inner wisdom is telling you to say no.
- Challenge the validity of your beliefs around saying no.
- Say no to at least one unreasonable demand you make on yourself each day.
- Practice saying no to others when required, whilst giving a reason why.
- Observe how you respond to those who say no to you.
“Let today mark a new beginning for you. Give yourself permission to say NO without feeling guilty, mean, or selfish. Anybody who gets upset or expects you to say yes all of the time clearly doesn’t have your best interest at heart.” Stephanie Lahart
If you would like to find out more about saying no, being more assertive or measuring your capacity to make good judgement, please contact me. I would also be delighted if you commented on this article and shared your experiences, but of course, you can always say no to this!!