What could be bad about saying “yes”? “Yes” is the word of opportunity. “Yes” opens doors. “Yes” is a great way to express that you’re an accommodating, ready-to-go team player. Everywhere you look, business books and self-help materials are saying “yes” to the power of saying “yes.” But what if saying “yes” isn’t always better? What if, sometimes, the more positive answer is actually saying “no”?
Consider the following:
Every “yes” comes at the expense of another “yes.”
Certainly, it is important to say “yes” to the things that matter, but every “yes” means time spent away from another “yes.” Sometimes, it’s important to say “no” to the wrong opportunities in order to say “yes” to the right ones. Say “no” to bureaucratic time wasters, diversions from your primary purpose, and time-intensive tasks outside your area of expertise. When you say “no” in these cases, you free up time to say “yes” to things that contribute to your team’s goals.
“No” has a bad reputation.
We associate “no” with negativity, but sometimes, a polite “no” is in the best interest of all parties involved. When people hear someone saying “no,” some will automatically assume the person is doing nothing but sitting at a desk, making paper airplanes, and swiveling around and around in an office chair waiting for 5 o’clock. Certainly, some naysayers are lazy or have bad attitudes, but more often than not, saying “no” comes from a place of consideration. There is a finite amount of time in the day, and when you say “no,” you show respect for everyone’s workflow.
Even if you are confident about your reasons for saying “no,” that doesn’t always make saying it easier. Here are some foolproof tips about how to say “no” at work. If you are an office manager, consider circulating these tips to your team:
1. Offer a good, honest reason and a realistic solution.
If you are inclined to say “no,” you probably have a valid reason. If you are overscheduled, accompany your polite refusal with an alternative solution (e.g., “I am booked through Friday, but if your timeline allows, I can definitely take a look at that early next week!”). If the favor requested is outside the scope of your job, it might be helpful to make a suggestion regarding how the asker might accomplish their goal (e.g., “I’m not the best with presentations, but Sarah has some bandwidth this week and is a wiz at PowerPoint. Do you want me to connect you two?”). Offering a valid reason–not a flimsy excuse–makes your refusal non-negotiable. Suggesting a solution shows that you genuinely do care.
2. Break it down.
If someone is asking a big favor and you want to help but genuinely cannot, consider offering to help with a smaller, more manageable portion of the tasks. For instance, if you are too busy to plan the company picnic or some other summer workplace activity, perhaps you could still make time to design the fliers or organize the catered office lunch. Changing the scale of the task is a great way to say “yes” while still saying “no.”
3. Increase the value of your time.
If you are so overburdened with opportunities that you find yourself saying “no” frequently, perhaps it is time to raise your prices. This applies to businesses on a practical level (i.e., raise the price from $3 to $4), but it also applies to individuals. If people are making too many useless demands, perhaps it is time to make your time seem more valuable. This is difficult in a corporate environment, but freelancers and the self-employed can put barriers in place to limit unwanted communication. Change the email address on your website to a contact form, and reply more slowly to emails. When you are less free with your time, people will self-police how much they ask of you.
Managing your workload requires constant energy, but these simple workplace time management tips should cut down on some of the stress. Remember, like any new skill, saying no gets easier with practice.
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