Saying ‘NO’ can make good sense for good sanity

I was going to title this blog, “The fine art of saying NO.” Before I did, I went online and saw that this headline had already been done several times. Apparently, it’s a worthy subject.

The reason it even occurred to me in the first place was it strongly came through in a recent training session where several people had this as a major issue. It seems that there are many reasons for always saying yes to a request:

  • You want to come across as someone who is always there, ready to help;
  • You do not want to offend the other person;
  • You are really nice and absolutely do not want to appear to be the opposite;
  • By saying yes, you indicate that you always have room on your plate to help others. You are a team player; and
  • Your boss indicated that you had better do this or else.

This list could go on and on.

However, there is a dark downside to always acquiescing to the never-ending requests of your time and talents. First, like a couple of people in my training session, all of your projects start to falter, including the ones that are clearly your responsibility. By taking on too much, you find that your project grade is almost always coming up “incomplete.” You wake up every day, further behind than where you were the day before. You start to lose sleep and, just maybe, feel like you’re also losing your sanity. The further you go, the further behind you get.

So the question is: What to do? You don’t want to say NO for the reasons listed above. However, for the sake of good sense and your own sanity, you better find a way to do it.

The first thing that needs to be addressed in this regard is whether the request is even in your range of capabilities. If it is clearly not, then you can tell the person they might be better asking someone more qualified. You might even refer them to a specific individual. Obviously, do this in tone and words that are not defensive or offensive.

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On the other hand, if it is a request that is in your range of capabilities, there are several checkpoints to consider:

  • Do you honestly have the time and energy that would be required to do a worthwhile job? If yes, go ahead. If not, gently let the person know that there is no way you could do justice to the request. If the request is from your boss, you might ask what priority she places on the project to give you a better sense of what to work on first.
  • If you are in a leadership role and the request comes from one of your people, is it something that they could/should be doing themselves? It could represent a growth opportunity for them or just be part of their job. There are some people who have refined the concept of “reverse delegation” — that is, the art of giving their project back to their manager.
  • Is the request consistent with your priorities, not just your capabilities? If it is not, realize that you are being asked to divert from your primary responsibilities and focus.
  • Are you already behind on other projects? If that is the case, saying NO should be easier than ever.

By the way, when you do say NO, there is a Dale Carnegie way of doing it. Always remember that you are saying NO to the project, not the person.

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