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Archive for October, 2010

Saying “No”: It’s Not For Whiners Anymore

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

Last week, I read a blog post by Marshall Goldsmith called Overcommitment: A Happiness Killer.  Most everything that Goldsmith writes grabs me.  He’s a world-renowned coach and thought-leader on effectiveness and performance improvement.  The crux of his post is to “think about what saying yes to that next request will mean.”  Really, when you say “yes”, it’s important to think about what you are saying “no” to.  I get it.  Nonethless, it’s really hard for me to say “no”.  And, this got me thinking of some common reasons why people don’t say “no”, especially in the workplace.

  • We’re afraid to hurt someone’s feelings.
  • We don’t want to be perceived as something other than a “team player”.
  • We want to be seen as super-capable and afraid that if we say “no”, we’ll be seen for what we are: human.
  • It sounds like a really good idea.

Learning to say “no” isn’t taught in business school.  Many organizational cultures don’t value saying “no” because it’s perceived as anti-team or pro-whining.  But, “no” can be a really good thing.  There are lots of reasons to say no, especially in the workplace:

  • We don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings by saying yes and then not being able to deliver.
  • We want to be perceived as being a “team player” and saying “no” when we know we can’t deliver builds trust and credibility.
  • We want to be seen as super-capable so we make sure to say no to something that will do nothing but take our “eye off the ball”.
  • Just because it sounds like a good idea doesn’t mean it is.

You get my drift.

Saying “no” effectively means thinking critically and keeping the big picture in mind.  Here are some questions you can ask yourself (or if you’re a leader, questions you can ask your team) when determining whether “no” is the right answer:

  • Does the request move your organizational agenda forward?  In other words, if you say “yes”, will there be progress toward something that matters?
  • Is the request in alignment with your role or responsibilities?
  • Do you have the authority and resources to take on and complete the request?  Or, if you need to access shared resources, do you know how?
  • If you say yes to the request, what affect does it have on other things you’ve said yes to?
  • Is there someone else in the organization more skilled and able to complete the request than you?

More and more, I find myself talking with clients about why they accepted that meeting notice or how they found themselves on yet another sub-committee.  Most of the time I discover that they answered someone else’s call without any questioning or critical thinking.  In today’s workplace, resources are scarce at worst or spread too thin at best.  People need to be a little more strategic about what they take on, and leaders need to support someone’s ability to ask some key questions before taking on a request that might suck time and energy away from something that really needs their attention.

Marshall Goldsmith had it right when he said overcommitment is a happiness killer.  I contend it can also be a productivity killer, an effectiveness killer, and a mission-critical-focus killer.

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Posted In: Leadership, Performance Management