"Many thanks for your outstanding contribution at our Annual Meeting. You faced a demanding audience and you performed with distinction." — Walter G. Shnee III, President, Million Dollar Round Table


No More “Mr. Nice Guy”

Have you noticed how requests for your time are always couched as benefits, or presented in a way to stroke your ego?  You are told: helping to raise funds or give a speech will provide so much exposure; serving on the board will give you leadership opportunities or increase your standing in the community; chaperoning the kids' outing will help give you time outdoors.  Please help because you are the best planner and Roberto's retirement party deserves the best.  We need your guidance on, could you help with, you are so good at . . .  The requests go on and on. 

Expectations, both internal and external, can be quite insidious.  Some are not even direct requests, rather assumptions that you will take on a particular responsibility. Suddenly, jobs fall onto your plate unnoticed.  Not saying "no" when you need to do so is the real trap.  Are you guilty of being more sensitive to the needs of other people than you are to your own?  Why is it so tempting to shift your priorities to the back burner in favor of meeting everyone else's requests?  Are any of these underlying reasons true for you?

  • I like the image of myself as a person who can juggle all these things.  It boosts my ego.
  • Being helpful makes me feel needed
  • Saying "no" is rude.
  • I feel guilty when I say "no."
  • If I say "no,” they won’t like me.

Saying "yes" too often piles another burden or obligation onto your already overflowing plate.  Other people won't respect your limits until you learn to set them from the very beginning.  Never forget where that extra time comes from to "help out.”  Usually, from your rapidly disappearing free time.

To begin saying "no" more often, think through the request, look at your schedule, and evaluate your interest, desire, ability, energy and time.  Review the request in light of your priorities, some of which are based on who really counts in your life.  To what activities would you like to donate your effort and experience?  If there is objectively too much to do, it can’t all be done.  Period. Watch for the trap of magical thinking; the belief that you will (somehow, magically) "have more time later."

This is not to say that helping others or donating time to worthy causes is to be avoided as a waste of time.  It can be noble and satisfying.  It is only a problem when doing so will take away time from other important areas of your life.  In order to keep your plate from overflowing, you must be willing to say "no" to gain the time for something else. Decide where responsibility to yourself begins and your responsibility to others ends.  Keep in mind that a "no" is simply the refusal of a request for you to volunteer your time.  It is not a personal rejection of the other person or a reflection of their self-worth or importance.  Honoring your time and your earlier, previously given promises is simply a matter of respect—respect for yourself and your commitments.  It is better to be wholeheartedly involved when you do agree to help out than to become overextended and feel resentful toward the request, the requester and the project.

Saying "no" appropriately is also better than coming back later and reneging on your agreement.  This leaves the requester in the lurch and feeling resentful toward you.  Here is an easy process for saying "no" that, with practice, will become easier:

  1. Listen to the request in its entirety to make sure that you understand what is being asked of you.
  2. Say "no" immediately. Do not be tempted to justify first, or offer a slew of excuses.  If you are thinking "no," say so right away without hesitation.
  3. Give reasons. The explanation should be short and about you, e.g., "I already have a prior commitment."  "I do not have any free time."  "I can't take on anything else right now."  Avoid accusatory comments, such as, "You are always coming to me, why not try someone else?"  This
  4. Offer alternatives.  Help the other person find alternative ways to solve the problem or meet his or her need.  Perhaps you can be available at a future date.  You might be able to accommodate part of the request but not all of it.  Offer the name of another person, group, or organization that could be of assistance.
  5. Never agree before checking your calendar.  If an immediate answer is required, say "no."  If you are unsure, say, "I need time to think about it.  I will get back to you tomorrow if I can participate."
  6. Buy yourself time. If a face-to-face refusal is too difficult, offer to call or e-mail them by the end of the day with a decision. When the pressure of looking directly at the person is removed, you can comfortably take stock and make an evaluation.  Then say "no" firmly and without guilt.

Odette Pollar is a nationally known speaker, author, and consultant. President of the management consulting firm, Smart Ways to Work based in Oakland, CA, her most recent book is Surviving Information Overload. Email to share your comments, questions and suggestions: odette@SmartWaysToWork.com. Visit us at: www.smartwaystowork.com call: 1-800-599-8463.

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