The Magic of Saying "No!"
One of my favorite quotes is from Dr. Stephen Covey. In his best-selling book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People he says: “It’s easier to say ‘no’ when you have a bigger ‘yes’ inside.” He uses an example where he describes the importance of doing the things that are truly important to you; things that are related to your goals, but not urgent and the importance of saying “no” to other people who might get you off track.
It might be uncomfortable to come right out and say “no,” and no one likes to hear it, however, there are ways to decline a request possibly without having to say “no” outright.
To achieve this, however, one must have a clear understanding of what their goals are and then set their priorities around them. One must be able to focus on those activities that are providing leverage towards their goals and not be diverted from that primary purpose.
A common challenge to this is all the interruptions that occur during the course of the day. The key again is to remain focused on the overall goal. Granted, crises that are urgent will occur; however, they must be dealt with based upon their urgency, and then one must return to the original activities.
The problem arises when interruptions occur that are not part of your responsibility, but are other peoples’ issues. There’s an old saying that goes, “Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.” When this happens, and it will, it’s important to remain calm, listen carefully, and express yourself assertively and politely. With this in mind we assertively state something like, “I understand that this is important to you. Unfortunately I’m working on x,y,z and am unable to do it.” At that point the person will have to explore other options.
Of course, the response is relationship-based. If it’s your boss who is making the request, an appropriate response might be to state all the projects and deadlines you currently have going on and then negotiate changes to those deadlines if it is something that the boss needs to have done.
If it’s a co-worker, it would be team-based and it would depend on the nature of the request. Everything has trade-offs. Based upon the circumstances, you may want to evaluate whether there’s a way you might be able to contribute. However, it must not interfere with your objective. If your deliverables would suffer, then it is perfectly fine to decline.
In customer service training the reps are taught not to say “no” outright, but to concentrate on the things that they “can” do as opposed to the things that they “can’t” do. They can say things like: “I’m authorized to offer you xyz” or “my options are 1, 2 or 3. Which would you prefer?” This preserves the relationship and avoids putting the customer on the defensive.
Then there are all the family issues that can emerge. Is it the child that forgot his or her schoolbooks for the “umpteenth” time and they want you to bring them to school? If you want them to learn responsibility, the best thing to do is say “no” and they won’t forget them again. If you say “yes” you’re training them to be irresponsible and forget their books.
The ability to say “no” can be developed; however, it’s not an easy task. One must balance his or her activities with the relationships of people that are important; however, the alternative is that one ends up doing things for other people that they should be doing for themselves - and your dreams, goals and objectives end up not being met. In the end, you are the one who pays the price.