Monday Mornings with Madison

“No” Problem

Most overworked, overloaded and highly stressed people all share one fundamental characteristic (let’s just call it what it is… a flaw).  They don’t know how to say “No.”   They might be able to muster the chutzpah to say an unassertive “no” once in a while, but they either don’t stand their ground afterward, or they just don’t say “no” often enough.   While a “Can Do” attitude or a “Never say No” disposition is generally considered by managers to be a desirable quality in staff, the truth is that those “always say yes” people often take on more than they can chew and that can be a problem both for the employee and the manager.

Why is it so hard for so many people to say “No”?  It is such a simple, little word.  Why should such a tiny two letter word be one of the hardest words to say for many?  That certainly wasn’t always the case.  At the age of two, most children say “No!” quite well.  In fact, that is probably the most often said word of the average two-year old (which explains why it’s dubbed “the Terrible Two’s”).  However, most children outgrow that phase of boldly rejecting whatever they don’t like or want and learn the need to get along with others and do things to please others.  Many of those no-spouting two-year olds grow up to become “people pleasers” instead.  For some, the word “No” completely drops out of their vocabulary.  Saying “No” to an authority figure is avoided and they come to believe that saying “No” costs too much in adult life.

Never Saying “No” can be a Problem

While there is nothing wrong with wanting to please others and be helpful — in fact it is an essential part of any functioning workplace and all civilized and compassionate societies — the problem arises when the word “No” is never used.   The problem is that there typically aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything everyone asks of the average “yes man” or “yes woman.”  For those people with a “No” problem, it means that some requests either aren’t getting done, aren’t done in a timely manner or aren’t being done well. At work, that can be a problem for both employee and employer.

Sometimes it is the manager who has the inability to say “No” and all of his/her staff pays the price.  Employees who work for a manager with a “No” problem are likely to be overloaded with work and continually face impossible deadlines. Under those conditions, they stop taking breaks, work through lunch, and never take sick days or vacations days.  Eventually, those employees cannot stand such stressful working conditions and quit.  Managers with a “No” problem may find that they have a higher turnover rate than those who know when and how to say “No” and mean it.

Saying “No” Assertively

There are strategies to make it a bit easier to say “No” assertively.

1. When someone makes a request, it is always okay to ask for time to think it over.  In thinking it over, remind yourself that the decision is entirely up to you.

2. In thinking about whether to agree to task you either don’t want to do or don’t have time to do, remember that “No”, is an honorable response because it respects the work to which you have already committed.  If you decide that “No” is the answer that you prefer to give, then it is authentic and honest to say “No”.  Remember also that if you say “Yes” when you want to say “No”, you will resent doing whatever you committed to do. This causes discomfort and expends unnecessary energy.  In effect, that “Yes” will ultimately cause you more discomfort than saying “No.”

3. Once you decide to say “No”, start your sentence with the word “No”. It’s easier to keep the commitment to say “No” if it’s the first word out of your mouth.

4. Use your nonverbal body language to emphasize a “No” response. Make sure your voice is firm and direct. Look into the person’s eyes as you say “No”. Shake your head “No” as you say “No”.

5. When saying “No” to someone you would help under different circumstances, use an empathic response to ease the rejection. For example, to a coworker who needs your help on a project when you are already overcommitted, say “No, Mary, I can’t help you complete that project today.  I know it will be hard to complete that work today without extra help, but I have another project that I am committed to complete today and I won’t be able to finish it if I help you.”

If you are being assigned a task to which you cannot say “No”, make sure to set realistic deadlines so that even your “Yes” has disclaimers.  For example, you can say “Yes, David, we will be happy to complete this Report for you.  We will not be able to work on it this week, but we will add it to our workload for next week.”

Next time someone asks you “Can you do X?” or “Can you help with X?,” don’t be so quick to say “No problem.”  Think carefully about your workload and consider if you and/or your staff can accept another project before you say “yes”… or you may find you actually have a “No” problem.

Quote of the Week

“The art of leadership is saying no, not yes. It is very easy to say yes.” Tony Blair

© 2012, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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