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How to Say No, Without Saying No

By Jendayi Harris

Certain personalities have a more difficult time saying no than others. Are you one of them? Take Kelly for example; Kelly, a VP for a large organization, loves taking on more and more projects. She's your go to person when you want something done and you want it done well.

However, her to do list was well over the norm. There wasn't enough time in the day, week, month or year for that matter, for Kelly to cross off everything on her list. Yet, it was her own health, mental sanity, and family paying the price.

She received requests constantly and reply with yes or variations thereof like "ok", "sure", or "no problem", every time, but screamed NO inside. Due the growing self-resentment, she was willing to make some changes, so she called for productivity coaching.

When we say YES to anything, we say NO to other things we could be doing.

Saying, yes, does tie up time in the future. Time, you may want to do something else with. Steve Jobs said, "It's only by saying no, that we can concentrate on the things that are really important."

With a spouse, two teens, two dogs, 12 direct reports, huge company initiatives and nonprofit community board member commitments, she needed to figure out her priorities that she wanted to say yes to. Then get less delusional to determine the realistic portion of her plate.

Through coaching, Kelly learned what and how to prioritize, how to manage personal capacity, and how to build a high quality to do list. But, most importantly for her personally was how to actually say the word, NO.

I worked with her to come up with phrases to say No, without ever using the word No. After all, no one, including you, likes to hear the word no, right? Some of us, don't like saying it either.

So a fix is to have a handy phase ready.

Phases such as:

- "I'd love to support this for you, can you come up with the initial ideas and I will take a look at that time?"

- "Thanks so much for asking me, my plate is full at the moment, can you see if [insert name of other team member] can work with you?"

-"I'll have some time open up for this in about two months [ insert realistic time frame], right now I have some priorities to handle, would that be okay?"

- "Could you consider Mike [Insert name of team member], my team member? He has the skills needed and I would like to develop his talents in this space, let him know I referred you to him and how it goes."

When we always say, YES, we become the YES man or woman. And, overtime most YES men and women, get pretty resentful. Why? Because they realize their time is over-committed. The things they want to do, get put on the back burner. When we over-value work, we under-value our own self, life and desires. Overtime, this is detrimental to life goals, dreams, family commitments, work life balance, health desires and ultimately best outcomes at work.

The trick is in the how we say No - without being rude, disrespectful or being perceived as an un-supportive team member. So when you share your new phrase, do so with a gentle, neutral tone. Tone of voice makes up 38% of the communication equation. Consider phases you can develop that express your gratitude for the request, and time to reflect or think about what could work. What are some phrases you can defer to when someone wants to add more to your plate?

Thank you for reading! What are your thoughts? Share in the comments.