The Art of Saying “No”

Posted In: Soft Skills
Posted On: 2/23/2016

Recently, I had the opportunity to chat in roundtable format with 13 women at the Impact HUB in Boulder.  What an engaging group of gals and a fun, albeit short, conversation!  Seriously, can you really have a great conversation with that many women in only 60 minutes?

The answer is YES!  Although the time was brief, I took away two pain points from the majority of the group that I want to share with you over my next two blogs: the Art of Saying “No” and the Art of Not Saying “Sorry.” Hopefully, these two will strike a chord with you, just as they did with me! - Jane

The Art of Saying “No”

This is, indeed, an art because the naysayer is walking that thin line between protecting her own valuable time and yet not coming off as standoffish.  Or in the words of one of the gals at our session, not wanting to be unpopular.  Saying “yes” to taking on another challenge happens entirely too easily because so many of us want to please! But, unfortunately, the net result is this: the monkey that was on someone else’s back has just jumped onto yours. Now it is YOUR job to get rid of that monkey. (Please read this timeless article for an awesome description of the monkey).

So, how do you decide when to take on the monkey and when to walk away?saying no at work, career advice for recent grads, Jane Miller

Try not to say “yes” immediately when asked to do something.  If you have a chance to think about what you might be taking on, you will be able to reflect on the amount of time it will take and how important the task is. (One exception that immediately comes to mind: if it is your boss making the request, a quick “yes” is probably in order!)

How do you buy time?

My answer would be this:  “I would love to say “yes” to you immediately, but I really need to look at what else I have on my plate right now.  I want to do the best job possible, and I need to make sure I have the time to do that.  Can I get back to you in a day or so?”

This approach gives you a little breathing room to see how this project fits into your priorities.  Use this time to really think through the “why” behind saying "yes."  Is it something you really would like to do to help a friend, learn something new, or support some agenda that you have?  Do you have time to do a good job or will the addition of this project just stress you out?

Once you have sorted through this, it is, of course, easy to say "yes."

But how do you say "no?"

You don’t need a super long answer, just stick to the facts.  “I honestly don’t have the bandwidth to take on another project. I thought through what it would take to get an excellent result, and I just can’t do this at this time.  Thanks for thinking of me!”

Remember, this is YOUR decision and it would be YOUR time that was being compromised.  Be protective of this very valuable asset—your time!