Apple co-founder Steve Jobs famously remarked “innovation is saying no to 1,000 things”.
As a manager, team leader or budding entrepreneur, you will receive dozens of emails, multiple phone calls, several Whatsapp messages and people approaching you for help, conversation or advice. In Indian culture we are reluctant to say no as we feel it breaks the harmony of the dialogue and it is considered rude. While socially we have been taught to never say no to elders, in today’s fast-paced workplaces we have to learn how to say it. There are multiple reasons we cannot say no confidently. We want to viewed as ‘nice’, we want to appear enthusiastic about our work by taking on more and want to look like a ‘solid’ team player. This explains why we are unable to say to requests for a “favor” from our clients, bosses, seniors and juniors. This singular habits leads to less time to complete our own tasks, enhanced levels of stress and career burn out.
- Saying ‘no’ to your boss: If you have shown tremendous commitment, there’s a high chance that your boss will give you endless tasks to do as you have demonstrated that you are capable and dependable. You feel if you say no to your boss now, it will send a message of being lazy, incapable of handling the workload or even disinterested. So the question remains – how to say no to your boss?When your manager gives you extra work, how you say no to him/her has a huge impact on your career.
If your boss asks you to take on extra work:
- Ask yourself if the work is reasonable - If yes, do it. If no, in a calm voice,request to speak with your boss for a few minutes.
- During the meeting, sit down and explain to him/her that “Currently I am working on XY project which will finish this week. If this current task you have given me is a priority, I can work on it immediately”.
- Negotiate: This kind of responsesends a clear message to your bossesthat you understand their workload and would like to partner with them. However, given your current workload, quality and productivity standards, you are open to pushing the earlier project to a slow-burner to get this task done. If earlier and current tasks need to be done with equal urgency, you will need another resource to handle it with you. Either way, you are eager to partner with your boss and are competent enough to balance your workload.
Saying ‘no’ to your co-workers : “Say two no's for every yes. You never want to turn down a chance to get involved in something good, but in my experience, dead ends outnumber opportunities in almost any walk of life. For every good idea, there are dozens of bad ones. So be more ruthless about saying no, especially when other people try to steer you off course. When someone asks for help, unless it's inappropriate or thoughtless to say no, weigh every yes as if you were spending money. If it distracts you from your goal, don't do it, no matter how tempting the upside seems." - “Mojo” business book by Marshall Goldsmith, American Leadership Coach
If a co-worker asks for a favor, try buying time with a quick “Let me get back to you in an hour”. Go back to your desk, deliberate upon timelines and how this extra work will add to your current load, affecting your performance. If it fits in with your current workload, help out your colleague. If not, without any pangs of guilt politely decline saying “This time it looks tough as I have several assignments running simultaneously”.
When a colleague makes an unreasonable demand, learn to say no instead of apologizing. Push back firmly and say “No, I am unable to” instead of “Sorry, I am unable to”.
- Saying ‘no’ to clients: Be patient and have a set of polite responses ready each time your clients ask you to do extra work, especially if you are in the services business. Strategically, think if it will add to your chances of getting more business or help you with client retention. If possible, try to fit it into your schedule. If not, politely explain why you are unable to do it, offering another option like “This is not an area of expertise for me but I will be happy to connect you with someone who is ranked highly for this skill”.
Always try to say the ‘no’ in person. As a rule, walk up to the person and tell them the reasons you are saying no. They can see you, reading your body language signals, hear the warmth in your voice and comprehend your words. If unable to schedule a face-to-face meeting, call them on the phone and use your voice to convey why you are unable to take the task on. Emails are a bad option – they can make you look rude as the person receiving it can neither see you nor hear you and the e-tone can be misconstrued.
- Be honest when saying no and maintain transparency. Never tell a lie as it may get caught and will ruin your credibility forever.
- Never start a sentence sporting a guilty face saying “I’m sorry…” or worse “No but…”. Always start on a positive note and with a confident stance.
- Practice saying “no” gently. As it’s a new skill to learn, you may have to repeat it gently several times before people switch gears from your old ‘nice’ personality.
While it’s obvious that you should say no to tasks or projects that don’t fit in with your work goals or value system, often most requests made at work are seldom so black or white – there are shades of grey. The dilemma is: after a 14-hour day, should you say yes, which is easier to say but tough to sustain or say a no which is tough to say but will keep your life simpler? Use these simple tips to reduce stress, improve time-management and maintain good working relationships.
- Delaying tactic: While you maybe unable to say a direct no to your colleague or boss, you cansuggest a different time line, as convenient to you. This tactic ensures that you are in control of your time schedule and can plan your work. If a client or boss is expecting you to take up a project and you are unable to work on it immediately, negotiate smartly: “Thank you for thinking of me. I cannot do this by Tuesday as I have a hectic travel schedule this week but will surely send you the report by Thursday evening”.
- Offer a plan B: If you would like to maintain the relationship but are deluged with work, honestly ask the person how you can help in some other way – give them options: “I am loaded with work this week. However, I can send you some data points in the next couple of days so that you can get started”.