Many, many of us have a hard time saying No. It can be hard to say No at work, hard to say No to friends, hard to say No to family… I know that for me it is. I have always been a people pleaser by nature.
If you read the management gurus, some will say you have to say No to everything at work that isn’t your priority, some say you need to say Yes to everything to add as much value as possible.
My personal approach, and this got me promoted 5 times in 6 years at a $4.5 Billion company, was to say Yes to almost everything. My thought was that I should add as much value to as many people as possible, which would build my network and influence. This worked for me, but there comes a time when you’ve built the network, have the influence, and then you have to say No a lot more, which is hard because everyone is used to you saying Yes. For me the transition from saying Yes to saying No was difficult.
The single most useful tool I’ve found for doing that is from William Ury’s book, “The Power of a Positive No.” In it he lays out a very, very simple framework, which is to frame your No response into 3 parts:
Say Yes to your interests
Say No to the request
Say Yes to the relationship
It is really that simple. The first thing you do is advocate for yourself and your interests. The second step is saying No to the request, and the third step is saying Yes to the relationship by honoring it and looking for a way to move forward. The very first time I tried using this approach was in response to a request from a non-profit and the result I got was amazing. Here is my reply to an email from that non-profit asking that I chair a committee in San Diego:
From: George Karris [mailto:[email protected]]
Sent: Monday, June 10, 2013 1:45 AM
To: Emily XXXXXX
Subject: Re: chair position for San Diego
I took some time to get back to you because I wanted to give this the appropriate amount of thought before rushing to a decision. I love [Organization name] and very much want to contribute, however I have a 10 month old son and am actually trying to unwind some of my other volunteer and extracurricular activities so I can be more helpful at home. As a result, after much thought and discussion with my wife, I need to decline your offer for the time being.
I do feel closely tied to [Organization name] (despite missing reunion) and would welcome the opportunity to contribute in the future once the little guy has put a couple years on him. Also, if I can be helpful in quick, one-off type activities like interviewing a candidate in the near term, then please let me know and I’ll see if I can make that happen.
Thanks for the email and for thinking of me. It is a role I would be very interested in when the timing is right.
Note that all I did was follow the 3 steps: advocate for myself, say no, preserve the relationship. The reply I got is below:
Jun 6, 2013
Emily XXXXX wrote:
Thanks so much for taking the time to consider the opportunity.
I’m sure life is a little crazy with a 10-month old (congratulations, by the way!) and I understand the need to devote more time to helping at home.
We certainly will keep you in mind as a possible chair for the future!
Thanks again for your thoughtful response.
All the best,
Isn’t that a great response from her (very positive and she didn’t try to convince me to take the role)?
Now, you might be thinking that I did have a bit of a super excuse in that I had a 10 month old, but the first paragraph would have worked just as well if I had removed the words “I have a 10 month old son” and left everything else intact, because everyone can understand the need to spend more time with their family.
My advice to you: practice this a bit in email form, then move on to using it to say No in conversations. It can make a world of difference, and help you thrive in your professional life and have more in your personal life.