One of the toughest jobs managers tell me they have is saying ‘no.’ So why is that? Well it can offend, it can be uncomfortable and it’s a bit final. The problem occurs when managers don’t want to say ‘no’ and they think the choices are to say ‘no,’ which is uncomfortable, to say ‘yes,’ which they don’t want to do so often they go for the worst of all worlds: ‘maybe,’ (which doesn’t help anyone). I think it’s not about saying whether to say ‘no,’ but about how you say ‘no.’
A great way to say ‘no’ is to provide an alternative. So one of your staff come up to you, as you’re heading to a meeting, and says “can I quickly talk to you about this project?” You don’t want to, you don’t have the time, but you don’t want to say ‘no.’ so what do you do? You say: “I’m just heading to a meeting, I’d love to help so let’s meet tomorrow. 10.00AM or 2.00PM is best so ping me an Outlook invite.” You have said ‘no’ without using the dreaded word, you have demonstrated a desire to help, and you’ve batted it back to them.
So best not to see it as a binary issue: that you have to give in when you don’t want to, or you have to bring the shutters down. There are ways of pushing back, of showing the other person that you’re not just being difficult, of leaving the door open. Don’t think ‘should I say no,’ think ‘how should I say no,’ then it will be a softer approach, but the message will still get through and you won’t be overloading your own time.
Photo credit: ‘In the name of’ by ‘Fe Ilya’