TO SAY “NO!”
Ten steps to empower you to feel more confident and comfortable saying “no”
By F. Scott Addis, CPCU, CRA, ACRA, TRA, ASA
A few weeks ago, I ran into Marc, a high school friend who has worked diligently to become a distinguished cardiologist in the Philadelphia area. Marc is a humble, thoughtful person who always puts his patients first. He works long hours and has little downtime. “At this point of my life,” he said, “I want to have a more balanced lifestyle. I need to cut back my patient hours so I can enjoy golf and spend more time with family and friends.”
He then added, “My biggest challenge is that I have not learned how to say ‘no.’ My high school and college buddies are now having heart issues and my parents’ friends are in desperate need of care. My practice is growing exponentially at a time when I want to get control over my life. I just can’t say ‘no’ to people.”
Are you in Marc’s boat? Is “no” not in your vocabulary? Is your inability to say “no” wearing you out?
None of us wants to be the person who says “no” and lets people down. We are taught to be “yes” people. When asked to take on more responsibility, we bite our tongue, bury our pride, and suck it up. At an early age, we learn to be team players and demonstrate positive attitudes. Our loyalty to our teammates is paramount. We express self-doubt through questions such as, “As my colleagues rarely say ‘no,’ how can I?” “Who am I to decline a task when my co-workers are also working extremely hard?” “If I push back, will my actions impact my personal brand?” “Will I risk the promotion if I do not demonstrate a warrior mindset?” “Although stressed, overwhelmed, and undervalued, I must push ahead, right?” Wrong!
Consider a recent Harvard Business Review article that revealed that 85% of workers say that their well-being declined in the past year due, in large part, to rising workloads. We are humans who possess a limited supply of time and energy.
When we exhaust our reserves, our interest level and ability to focus on additional projects decline. Our inability to say “no” leads to burnout and negatively impacts the quality of our work.
Being agreeable is an important part of being a team player, yet there are times when it is best to stand up for yourself and say “no.” The tragedy of always saying “yes” leads to anxiety, stress, and performance issues. Simply put, the fear of saying “no” impedes one’s growth mindset.
Rebecca Knight, a contributing columnist at Harvard Business Review, states: “Saying no is vital to both your success and the success of your organization.”
Ten steps to say “no”
To empower yourself to feel more confident and comfortable with saying “no,” consider the following 10 steps:
1. Build your reputation first. Before you can say “no,” it is important that you establish credibility and trust. Those around you must see you as a team player who always goes the extra mile. Your work ethic, positive attitude, professionalism, and desire to say “yes” need to be established, recognized, and valued. Your colleagues must learn that you always produce quality work.
While saying “no” is empowering, it is essential that you first build a reputation as a reliable and conscientious person. If you come out of the gates saying “no” without first establishing credibility and trust, your reputation is at risk.
2. Set boundaries. Saying “no” is an enforcement mechanism to protect your priorities and well-being. It is all about setting boundaries … the rules you set to have work/life balance and a rewarding career path. Setting boundaries starts by defining your priorities—personally and professionally. Your boundaries require clarity about your future. Knowing and communicating your priorities will give you confidence.
Consider keeping a list of short- and long-term priorities at your desk. It is your responsibility to confirm that you are spending your valuable time on high-impact projects. It is impossible to perform at a high level without clear boundaries.
3. Assess the request. Resist gut reactions. Drill down. Be inquisitive and fully understand the task. Make a judgment on the likelihood of your success, the return on your time investment, and the fit within your and the organization’s priorities. It’s important to obtain a description of the project, timeline, deadline, parameters, and how success will be measured. You owe it to yourself to fully understand the request before deciding if the opportunity is one that you can give your all. Ask plenty of questions and take notes.
Weighing the cost and benefits is a best practice that will pay significant dividends. You will be wise to ask for a reasonable time to consider the request, as you may need time to formulate valid reasons for your answer.
4. Measure the impact of saying “no.” Make every effort to assess the impact of saying “no.” Ask yourself questions such as, “Who is the person making this request, and what will be the reaction if I decline?” “Might my decision have an impact on my reputation and career path?” “If I choose to accept the opportunity, will my heart and soul be in the project?” “Does the opportunity align with my priorities?” “Do I have all the relevant information and the ability to weigh the pros and cons of my decision?”
None of us wants to be the person who says “no” and lets people down. … When asked to take on more responsibility, we bite our tongue, bury our pride, and suck it up.
5. Consider why you are avoiding saying “no.” Far too often, negative thoughts creep into our minds when a request is made. Examples include let-ting your team down, how you will be perceived, and career path implications. For that reason, you must ask yourself, “If I believe that a request to take on additional work is not in my best interest, why am I so hesitant to say ‘no?’”
Your ability to pinpoint your inability or unwillingness is an essential ingredient in learning to say “no.” Simply put, you must surface your fears and anxieties.
6. Rationale for your “no.” Assuming that you have thoroughly assessed the request and determined that it is not in your best interest, it is now time to formulate the rationale for your “no.” Use logical reasoning as to why you are refusing the request. Be brief and clear. Keep things simple. For example, you may suggest that taking on the new assignment will undermine your ability to meet the deadline on another key project. Acknowledge your already full work schedule. Be specific. “Thank you for considering me for the project. I was planning on spending the next few weeks on A, B, and C.”
It is easier for you to say “no” when you have a compelling reason that matters. It will also give you more confidence that you are making the right move. A good “no” is all about timing and logic.
7. Stay the course. Saying “no” with logical reasoning should put the issue to bed. But some people will continue to come at you. They may even lay emotional baggage on you. In these circumstances, it is critical that you recall your boundaries … priorities that support your vision for success. You may wish to say, “I have already given you my answer. I ask that you respect it.” Stand your ground. Be firm and confident.
8. Offer alternatives. It’s beneficial to develop the ability to say “no” in a constructive and flexible manner. Offer alternative solutions that create a win-win. Compromise by suggesting trading-off tasks to free up space.
In the case of my friend Marc, he might say, “I am honored that you would consider me as your cardiologist. As I have tentative plans to wrap up my career in a few years, I would like to introduce you to my talented partner, whom I have personally trained. He/she provides outstanding quality of care.”
9. Practice makes perfect. Like anything in life, practice makes perfect. After you request time to think over a specific request, rehearse your response … especially if it is a “no.” Be mindful of your language. Consider videotaping yourself so you may study how you package your “no.”
Your response must be polished, polite, straightforward, and authentic. Otherwise, you risk coming off as a renegade who cares solely about your world. Although a face-to-face meeting is the most professional way to articulate your position, you may have to express yourself through email or work chat channels.
Whether in-person or virtual, be mindful of the tone of your message, as you do not want it to be misinterpreted.
10. Think long-term. Know what you really want. Bring the future into the present. Ask questions such as, “Is this where I want to focus my time and effort at this point of my career? Will this project move me closer to my end goal?
You now know how to say “no” with confidence and conviction. Good luck!
Scott Addis is CEO of Beyond Insurance and an industry leader. His agency was recognized by Rough Notes magazine as a Marketing Agency of the Month, he was a Philadelphia finalist for Inc. Magazine’s “Entrepreneur of the Year” award, and was selected as one of the“25 Most Innovative Agents in America.”
Beyond Insurance is a consulting firm that offers leadership training, cultural transformation, and talent and tactical development for enlightened professionals who are looking to take their organization to the next level. Since 2007, the proven and repeatable processes of Beyond Insurance have transformed agencies as measured by enhanced organic growth, productivity, profitability, and value in the marketplace.
To learn more about Beyond Insurance, contact Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org.