The Power of No

Saying no to requests you don’t want to follow through on or don’t have time to accomplish is a difficult skill to master. Especially at the office, many people feel compelled to be a “yes man.” But as a video from SUCCESS magazine's Mel Robbins recently highlighted, there’s a pretty easy way to keep yourself from saying yes when what you really need to say is no.

The key lies in saying “I don’t” instead of “I can’t.” In one of several tests included in a study [PDF] by Boston College and the University of Houston first released several years ago, researchers found that volunteers who said “I don’t skip exercise” instead of “I can’t skip exercise” worked out more often.

Regardless of whether you’re talking to yourself or another person, “can’t” suggests that you might want to do something, but aren’t able to; Robbins gives the example of saying "I can't eat cake for lunch." The implication is that in another set of circumstances, you could. But when you say “I don’t” ("I don't eat cake for lunch"), there’s no room for debate. It’s a hard-and-fast rule that you set for yourself.

The researchers write that “using the word ‘don’t’ serves as a self-affirmation of one’s personal willpower and control in the relevant self-regulatory goal pursuit, leading to a favorable influence on feelings of empowerment, as well as on actual behavior. On the other hand, saying ‘I can’t do X’ connotes an external focus on impediments.”

The 'No' Program

Some programs you can run when you need to say NO.

As much as I want to explore new opportunities, and assist clients with their needs, there are times when I have to say no. It's much more difficult than saying yes - as the word no incites conflict which we want to avoid.

The issue with saying yes, or failing to say no shows up as: * An implied yes. * Resentment for ____, because it's taking you away from ____. * Others stealing your time.

People pleasures (many who are middle children) like myself want to make everybody happy. I don't want anyone to feel left out or jaded. I am hyper tuned in when someone in the room is unsatisifed. As a result, I often apply a good deal of time and energy working to make people happy, many of whom will never be happy no matter what I do. But I'll try - until I finally give up and move on.

It's time to move on.

Be Assertive

Assertiveness to say NO.

Scenario 1:

Your client is asking you to take on more work than you can handle.

Program to run: Prioritize

Prompt: I will add it the the list of milestones. Please take not of the priority order.

Scenario 2:

A friend you haven't heard from in a long time asks you to donate to her child's school fundraiser. You're tapped out and have already given as much as your able to right now.

Program: Selective Ignorance

Rather than enter a course of conflict, you can ignore the request. If it's really important, they'll call you (but most won't). If you are confronted you can say something like "I'm sorry but I already donated by annual budget to a friend whose daughter was shot in Las Vegas (true story)."

Scenario 3: You're asked to volunteer

Program to run: Be Honest

Ask yourself: Is this the best use of your time? Is there really room for it in your life? Is this just the tip of the iceberg? How often does a 1 hour meeting turn into 4 hours of work? You need to look at your current list of projects. You can say 'I'd love to help but my bandwidth is tapped out and I don't commit to things unless I know I can give them 100%.'

Scenario 4: You don't agree with a decision

Program: Say Something

Be assertive, but not overly agressive. Try to raise some questions the decision maker may not have considered. I understand that you decided to ____, but have you considered the ramifications of _____? Help them to 'play it out...' - to help them see the potential result they may have not considered. State your reasons. If you disagree you may want to state; I respect your decision, but I respectively disagree.

Example: You offered to bring desert tonight. Your first thought was to go to the local donut shop. But given your commitment to health, can you bring fruit instead? Might everyone appreicate it? How many any of can resist the temptation of donuts?

In a polite, professional manner, it’s your responsibility to speak up when there’s something you disagree with or feel is not be in the best interest of the company. Assertive versus aggressive is the way to go. There’s nothing wrong with simply stating, “Jon, I disagree with the direction of the Smith project. I feel that it’s a duplicate effort for the three of us to be working on the same checklist. Wouldn’t our time be better served to split the duties and meet Thursday afternoon to follow up?” State your reasons in a professional manner. Communication in a respectful, non-confrontational manner is the key.