Learning to say NO is especially difficult in an organizational culture where leaders are accustomed to using positional power rather than personal power to get things done. It is also extremely challenging when you are not clear about your personal boundaries and have allowed patterns to develop that others take advantage of.
Sometimes people agree to requests because they feel they ought to, instead of pushing back and articulating what they can and can’t do at that moment and what’s really going on for them. Then while doing the job they agreed to, they regret saying yes and feel anger or resentment towards that person. As you know from your own experience, these scenarios play out not only in work situations but all aspects of our lives, including our families and partner relationships.
The outcome of a conversation where you feel pressurized to do something is often pre-determined if your own power differential is not balanced. Without going into too much detail here, balancing your power differential means getting into a good space psychologically before you push back. And breathe. Do not respond if you are feeling guilty, powerless or manipulated. Get clarity about these emotions first before responding.
C – Clarify what your client or colleague is asking or demanding. Use open q’s, paraphrase and reframe.
O – Offer your reality – a brief insight as to what you are dealing with right now – your reality.
D – Describe what you can’t do by actually saying no. If appropriate, say what you can do and by when.
E – Empathize by communicating your understanding of their situation and the impact of saying no.
1. “Chris, if I say yes to you right now, I would have to drop another equally important request from one of your colleagues. I need to be realistic and say no. The earliest that I can tackle this is on Monday . . . “
2. “David, I’m in the middle of a complex project. We’ll be working over the weekend to complete it on time. So I need to say no to your request right now. How about I check in with you on Monday at 11am with a view to begin working with you on your request starting on Monday afternoon. . ?”
3. “I would love to help you Gina. Here’s my reality – I am snowed under until at least Wednesday. I can’t help you at the moment. I can commit to giving you my full attention on Thursday. I know this is not what you were hoping to hear . . .”
6. “Sarah, after finding out a bit more about your project, I realize I’m not the best person to help you on this. Two of my colleagues, Lee and Bjorn are experts in this field. How about if I introduce you to them. . ?”
You can adapt these few examples to your own style so you come across as authentic and not scripted.
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