Great leaders are often bombarded with requests for assistance, phone calls, emails, and pleas to take on new projects. As much as we all wish we could clone ourselves and tackle everything on our to-do lists at once, this simply isn’t possible. Instead, busy professionals must learn the fine art of when – and how – to say no. The first step to learning to say no is to embrace the value of your time and to set your priorities.
This step goes far beyond simply determining how much money you want to make per hour, or how many work projects you have left on your task lists.
The goal is to truly consider the time you have available, and how you would prefer to spend it. Do you really want to sacrifice an extra hour of time at home with your family each day to accommodate another project in your work day?
The second step is to engage in a little bit of soul searching and determine why you are struggling to say no in the first place.
Whether you are afraid of coming across as rude or selfish, are attempting to avoid conflict, or losing out on an opportunity to help a friend or experience something new, understanding why you are having trouble saying no can help make learning to use the word a little bit easier.
The third step is to practice saying no. This does sound a little bit cliché, but practice really does make perfect in this instance.
It is important that you don’t turn your no into an apology or excuse, as these qualifying statements will give the impression that there is a possibility of changing your mind. Instead of using phrases like “I’m sorry, but..” or “I really wish I could, but…”, extraneous requests should be met with a simple “No thank you, I have too much on my plate right now”.
It may seem like a daunting process, but the time spent practicing saying no should also include practice saying the dreaded word to individuals who are seen as being in charge, such as a boss or direct supervisor.
If an employee, including one in a managerial or leadership role, finds themselves stretched too thin across multiple commitments, they are actually showing their responsibility and dedication to the organisation by turning down new projects that would jeopardise existing commitments.
If saying no directly would potentially cause difficulties in a given situation, it may be best to learn to delay decision making. Learning to say “I don’t have an answer right now, but let me get back to you” can give you an opportunity to really evaluate your schedule and determine whether or not the benefits of the project outweigh the time and energy required.
Similarly, if a project sounds particularly interesting and your no is based on time demands alone, saying “This sounds like an excellent project, but I don’t have time at the moment.
Can we discuss this again later?” can provide an opportunity to clear your schedule and tackle that fascinating project. You will soon find that having a well thought-out list of priorities and a little bit of practice in the mirror will give you the gumption needed to say no when necessary.
By learning to say no to requests that are bound to take time away from your existing work projects or time spent at home, you will soon find that you are less stressed, more engaged, and more productive in all aspects of your life.
Head of Training and Development
Updated on: 28 October, 2014
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