The hardest word to add to my professional vocabulary: No

My posts on leadertainment are written with the intent to help my readers. In this case, I hope that by writing the post I will be able to drop my aversion to saying no at work in situations when additional requests come to me (from all directions in the organization) to do work that is either beyond the scope of my formal role or tips the work/personal happiness balance out of whack. So I’ll start by asking for help directly – any one got this figured out? Please leave a comment and tell the leadertainment crowd your secrets!

Previously we’ve learned that it takes both logic and emotion (“the head and the heart”) to make a change.  So, let’s explore the resistance – either logical or emotional – to the word no:

  • I won’t get another chance to contribute if I turn this one down. This is by far my biggest fear. I want my skills to be in high demand at work, and I’m afraid that saying no will cause other people to “write me off.” In reality, as long as demand is high and the supply of talent is tight, and as long as I keep the quality of my team’s work high, more opportunities to contribute won’t require a long wait.
  • Just this once is ok, but next time… This form of delusion just creates internal discord. I say no inside, but yes to the person in front of me. I put myself last in line of people who get to be happy. Not sustainable or self-respecting!
  • I can cut a few corners and it won’t be that much more work. Another form of delusion that distorts reality to avoid cognitive dissonance.
  • “That’s not my job” doesn’t exist in the culture I want to build. As a consultant I was lucky enough to see dysfunctional corporate culture in a variety of flavors. One constant has been a lack of ownership and initiative, and therefore I want to set an example in my organization of not ever shirking responsibility.

So, now that I’ve identified the resistance, next time I’ll describe a few strategies to saying no without compromising personal boundaries or negatively impacting professional relationships. Any contributions of wisdom are welcome as I finalize the list!


3 thoughts on “The hardest word to add to my professional vocabulary: No”

  1. Ryan, thanks for sharing this post! This is one of many things I struggle with and it can often leave me spread thin or unable to consistently produce high quality work, so I look forward to seeing what you come up with! There is certainly an art to expectation setting when saying ‘no’. Realizing that if I am clear and honest with my decision making, often I can prevent the requestor from leaving with the wrong impression (one of my fears), has helped me say no.
    One question I have tried to ask myself lately when evaluating a new responsibility is, “If I wasn’t asked, would I seek this opportunity out on my own?” If the answer is yes, I follow up with, “Then why haven’t I done it already?” This helps me think through whether its within my scope and resources. Thanks again for the post and I look forward reading.

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