On Saying “No”

By: Jan Bolick

Learning to say “No” has come up in many recent lunch meetings, coaching sessions and workshops.  Not just learning how to say it but also learning when to say it.  This week’s quote gives guidance for both.

We can develop “Yes” muscles by deciding what’s most important to us as human beings.  What we want to do…who we want to be…who we want to be with…how much and when.

We can develop “Yes” muscles in our professional lives by:

  1. knowing the purpose of our work.
  2. having defined goals or a definition of success for our work.
  3. deciding what steps and activities are needed to achieve success.
  4. determining which of these things MUST be done by us (not someone else).
  5. determining how much time is needed for each of these activities each week.
  6. sharing, and if appropriate, getting approval or agreement from our managers or Boards on #1-5.
  7. blocking time for these things on our calendars each week.
  8. doing a quick weekly review of plan vs actual.
  9. working with a coach to help close the gaps between the plan and actual.

When anything comes up that isn’t covered in #3-5,  we either forgot it and need to add it.  Or it’s time to say:

  • “No”
  • “My schedule is full”
  • “Based on the goals assigned to me, I need to focus in other areas.”
  • As long as our goal is ______, I need to spend my time on _____.

Or  there is the “Yes…if…” approach which I learned from Jennifer, a former assistant who once said to me, “Jan, I’d be happy to take on this new project if we could delay deadlines on some of the others you’ve assigned to me.”

I was puzzled.  What other projects?  She showed me her list and the deadlines attached to each and I was shocked. Some of those projects didn’t matter any more, so I was also embarrassed. We immediately established a new way of tracking assignments for everyone on the team.

Then I went to my boss, showed her my very long list of projects and said, “Based on my goals, which of these do you think are most important?”  I left that meeting with a much shorter list, the weight of the world off my shoulders and much more pronounced definition in my “Yes” muscle and in my “No” muscle.

Use this week’s quote

as food for thought and discussion this week. Print it, share it, post it on your computer screen (see instructions below) as a reminder to look build your “YES” muscle.

Or…you could just keep:

  • trying to do more than you can do
  • feeling incompetent for not being able to do it
  • being mad at yourself when you don’t say “No”
  • feeling guilty when you do

Thought/Discussion Questions

Based on your goals, desired outcomes, definition of success:

  1. What steps and activities are needed to achieve success?
  2. Which of these things MUST be done by you and only you?
  3. How much time is is needed for each of these activities each week?
  4. Would your boss or board agree with your answers to #1 – 3?
  5. Have you asked them lately?

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You can post the above quote to your computer screen with just three clicks.

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