Purpose: the Power of a Positive No
In 2019, learn to say no.
It’s the start of a new year, and you may be searching — for a career with purpose, for more balance in your life. You’ve crafted your top goals, so how do you reach these goals? Learn how to say ‘’No.’’
No. I won’t join that conference call Friday at 10:00 PM.
No. I’m not able to write a recap of that meeting this instant.
The ability to say “no” is a global issue, not gender, culture or function. Globally we’re reluctant to say no, feeling we should do that extra work or sign on to a new project. Many of us already have too many high-priority projects on our to-do list. When another juicy project lands on the desk, do you take it, ignore, grumble, or decline it? Accepting most everything results in stress, under-performance and burnout.
Stress is a highly personalized experience. We each respond differently when work demands and pressures challenge our ability to cope. Over 50% of global employees stated an increase in job stress associated with having little control, but lots of demands (The American Institute of Stress). In Singapore, Willis Towers Watson’s 2017 Benefits Trends Survey found that nearly half (44%) of local employers identified stress as the number one health issue. In the US, burnout is estimated to be US$125 billion to US$190 billion in health-care annual spend.
We have a choice.
What stops us from saying no? Here’s what I found:
-We don’t want to miss an opportunity (FOMO)
-We don’t want to burn bridges
-We don’t want to offend others
-We want to be seen as a team player
-We’re not clear on what matters most
Guilt plays a role. Let’s say you’re working on a new project. Your family/partner/friend calls to ask where you are, everyone’s waiting for you at the restaurant. What takes precedence? Guilt settles in, then stress follows.
Other reasons for not saying no include a reluctance to let go. And learning how not be that person. We all know the “go-to’’ connector at work, typically a high performer with great depth and many (perhaps too many) connections. There’s ego and attachment, reinforced through positive feedback. And being liked validates our worth.
Does this sound familiar? Don’t fall for the yes trap. Focus on what matters most, then do it to the best of your ability. This requires boundary setting. Determine what’s important and stay true to your purpose. If you want to move forward with your audacious 2019 goals, then recognize what you need to stop doing.
Saying no is a strategy for success. William Ury’s book, The Power of a Positive No: How to Say No and Still Get to Yes, lays the foundation for building a three-step positive ‘’no’’ strategy.
1. Yes expresses your interests (internal)
2. No asserts your power
3. Yes furthers relationships (external)
Practicing Yes — No — Yes
Last year I worked with Leah Kim, an expert in digital marketing for a strategic consulting firm. She had just finished a meeting on a high level project, a huge deal the firm was about to close. It was Friday night and she was meeting her family for a celebration, her grandmother’s 80th birthday. Everyone would be there. Her boss, a senior partner with the firm, stopped by to thank her for her participation and insights, then asked if she could send a recap to the client tonight, saying, “It won’t take you much time. And you’re great at capturing the essence of the project. You’re the only one who has this knowledge.”
The first yes is internal. She thought: ‘If I don’t speak up now this will continue’. Grabbing her bag, she walked towards the door, turned and said, ‘’I need to attend a family event, I’m running late and I intend to be at this dinner tonight.’
The first no. I won’t be able to stay late to craft the email.
(Leah paused before the second yes.)
The second yes is external. ‘Here’s what I propose; we send a follow up email on Monday. This gives everyone time to reflect before we ask for input.’
Ury’s three-step method helped her maintain a trusted relationship with her boss while honouring her personal commitments.
If you find yourself saying ‘yes’ when you really want to say ‘no’, (or saying no poorly with excuses and apologies), or saying nothing at all, try one of the following sentences
1. Thank you for asking but that’s not going to work for me.
2. I’d like to help out but I’m not available until…
3. I can’t do it but I know someone who can…
4. Thank you for thinking of me. I’m not able to take this on at this time.
5. Thanks, I’ll have to pass this time (and don’t say anything else).
It is easy to confuse pressure or challenge and stress and call it poor management. It’s not them. It’s us. We have a choice.
“No” is a complete sentence. (Annie Lamont).