People underestimate the power of saying “no”. Saying no sounds scary, especially when you are turning down a request from your boss, a volunteer, or a donor. But here’s the thing: we say no all the time by our actions. We work as hard as we can for as long as we can and then stop when we must. Incomplete to-do items roll off our desk and crash to the floor. By saying no, we are strategically choosing what falls. We’re making an informed decision that we can justify.
When a request lands on your desk, don’t commit right away, advises the Harvard Business Review. Acknowledge the request. Ask clarifying questions. Seek time to give the problem some thought. Where does this fit within your priorities? How much time would it take to do it? How might your office (not you necessarily) accomplish this task? Then respond to the requestor with your solution.
Another strategy I like is “Yes, No, Yes.” “Yes, that sounds like an important (interesting) idea (project) (event). Unfortunately, I am unable to take it on at this time. But, yes, I will give this some thought and get back to you.”
Greg McKeown, Author of “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less,” recommends three steps.
Step 1: Affirm the relationship. e.g., “It really is good to hear from you.”
Step 2: Thank the person sincerely for the opportunity. e.g., “Thank you ever so much for thinking of me! It sounds like such a brilliant project. I am complimented that you thought of me.”
Step 3: Decline firmly and politely. e.g., “For several reasons I need to pass on this at the moment.”
As leader/managers, we also have to empower our team members and give them the power of saying “No.” Katie Beauchamp, co-founder of Birchbox says, “The most important thing I can do is show I really understand the priorities of the business and help people not do things.
By saying no to some things, you create the space and the energy to say yes to other tasks. “You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage to say—pleasantly, smilingly, non-apologetically—no to other things,” said the late Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. “And the way to do that is to have a bigger yes burning inside.”