At certain times throughout our careers each of us is faced with the challenge of simply saying NO! No to working on this project or NO to chairing another committee or NO to attending a meeting or no to an new idea or project; learning to say no is essential. Steve Denning suggests that leadership is all about focusing energy on achieving an important goal. In achieving focus, leadership is implicitly saying no to all the other less-important things that might be attempted at this time. In this sense, saying no to trivia and distractions is the essence of leadership.
Saying no is an art form, as if done incorrectly can foster apathy (why try, she’ll just say no), or resentment (she NEVER likes my ideas), or can cause division in relationships (she NEVER does anything for me).
In a Chronicle of Higher Education article, Allison Vaillancourt (University of Arizona/Tucson) says she often has to figure out how to politely decline a request to participate in a committee or activity for which she just doesn’t have time. Here are some approaches she’s come across:
- “I’ve been trying to figure out a way to say that I could do this – because I would enjoy it. But the terrible truth is that I am really overcommitted in the next couple of years, and adding anything is probably not a good idea. I really hope I can help in the future.”
- “I’m not the best person for that, so let me suggest ---- or ----.”
- “It would be so great to work with you on this, so I’m crushed that my schedule won’t permit me.”
- “I wish I could say yes, but I’m in the middle of a big project right now.”
- “This is an important event, and I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to give it the attention it deserves.”
- “Can you give me a few weeks to think about this and call you if I think I can make this work?”
- “I wouldn’t be able to participate on a regular basis, but I’d be happy to serve as a sounding board from time to time.”
- “You are so kind to think of me. I wish I could.”
Saying no is strategic, but like so many other things must be practiced. I’m guessing some reading this are better than others in saying no…I’d be interested to hear how you just say no…
Be good to yourself…