Adding “No” to your professional vocabulary: three strategies

It looks backwards to this guy but he still picked the right box.
It looks backwards to this guy but he still picked the right box.

Last time we took a peek behind the green curtain to learn that the word I struggle to use in a professional setting is “no.” From the amount of feedback I heard about the post, this seems to be a fairly common affliction in the professional population.

So let’s look at a few strategies to turn down requests at work without damaging professional relationships or credibility (and without sounding like Consuela).

  1. Redirect the resource: Rather than leaving the requester scrambling for help, your “no” can be followed with suggestions of people in the team with related skills who could help complete parts of the assignment. Of course your unique skills were sought out for a reason, so your redirection will boost your image as a connector (in Gladwell’s definition) rather than a work-dodger.
  2. Change the choice: Everyone is already busy. So when you face a new request for help, the choice you are making is not “will I do this or do nothing?” but “what would I stop doing to do this?” So why not make this choice transparent to the requester? Let him or her know what you are currently working on (especially if it is a familiar project), and shift the discussion to a professionally appropriate version of “would you rather.”
  3. Yes, but not now: Some requests are genuinely urgent, but many have flexible deadlines. Give the requester a sense of when some daylight will creep into your schedule, and offer to help then instead of a flat-out “sorry, I can’t.”

It’s great to be needed at work, and by continuing to deliver great results, that will continue, especially if you have the resolve to say no when you can’t deliver. Try one of these strategies above and leave a comment about how it works! Have other strategies that have helped? Let the leadertainment community know!


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