The Power of Saying “No!” for Your Career

I attended an alumni luncheon at Arizona State University yesterday that featured a presentation by Professor Joan Brett, an associate professor in management at the W. P. Carey School of Business, on the power of saying no in your career and personal life.

Here is a recent Q&A she did on the topic for the ASU website. The premise that she emphasized is using no to be good and yes to be great as the response relates to your work and life balance and what you can effectively add to your plate. Saying no to a variety of requests might normally be a pretty logical and straightforward response mechanism, but what if the “no” recipient is your boss, spouse or a friend from a nonprofit organization that interests you? She noted two books that are excellent on the subject: “Getting to Yes” and “Good to Great”.

As Dr. Brett pointed out, the more successful you become in your career, the more requests for your time, resources and funds will come your way. For authors and accomplished speakers, they can benefit by filtering all appearance requests to their publicist or agent and rely on them to say no to offers and requests.

The big picture in evaluating all of the requests you may receive from those important relationships in every part of your life from work to family to community involvement is assessing what is the “yes” that you want?  What is the best response you can provide to interested parties that works for you so that you aren’t defensive or disappointing the trusted people in your life.

The process of saying no should not be underestimated, as it requires some careful thought and communication finesse. She outlined a few key steps to make you happy and also leave those seeking your assistance feeling better about their end of the transaction.

1. Prepare – What are you prepared to give up? How will saying yes to a request affect your story and what you want to work on with your precious time? What is the personal cost of helping shape someone else’s story stacked against what you need to accomplish?

2. Statements – What are the statements to deliver those necessary “no” answers for you effectively without damaging relationships. How will you say it?

3. Delivery – Couch your response in a way that articulates continued interest or support in another way in the future if you can’t provide your time, talent and treasures at that time.

4. Propose Alternative Solutions – Provide other options as a means of saying no while saying yes. Refer someone to another qualified person who may be interested and more able to take on the task at that time. Suggest another time when you would be more able to fulfill the request. Offer what you can by saying yes to one portion of a project or request that most pertains to your set of skills and time demands.

5. Follow Through – This is overlooked by many people, but being firm and clear with your answer and negotiating an exchange where feasible is important when someone is persistent with their request.

Some other notes to ponder:

– When you deliver that “No”, stand fast knowing that it is a complete sentence. Be confident that you have provided a non-negotiable response without any excuses, reasons or justifications.

-When presented with opportunities for a promotion, it may not always be an automatic “yes!”. Assess the balance of your life and who you want to be. Does it fit with your identity and life interests? (i.e. maybe you are more passionate and suited being a columnist than moving up the ranks to managing editor).

-Consider a rule if you don’t have someone fielding your requests : such as, for every five no answers, say yes to one.

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