“I did not ASK your opinion Stelzner. Just do it and get the hell out of my office!!” He was spitting mad and kicked at the air, accidentally crashing his toes into the edge of his desk.
So I did two things – 1) I got the hell out of his office; and 2) I did what he asked without hesitation. In retrospect, I wished I would have said no and stood my ground, but it was the end of the quarter and he desperately needed me to bring in some revenue from one of our strategic partners. Although watching him limp around with (likely) broken toes offered some solace, I was young and lacked the courage or experience to know how to handle an irate boss. Like many of you, no one had taught me the art of saying no.
As working adults our daily decisions can be very complex. The implications of how we handle situations can range from taking on more work than we can handle to covering the shortcomings of those around us. In doing so, your more generous colleagues may recognize you as a “team player” who really “pitches in during crunch time” and doesn’t ever “question the assignment“. The manipulative types, however, will zero in and see you as an “easy target” who can “carry the load” while betting on how far they can push before you crack. Yet other more innocuous workmates may simply acknowledge the reality that everyone is doing more with less (and that everyone includes you).
Given today’s precarious world of employment, I’m finding that it’s harder and harder for people to say no. Author Leo Babauta summarized the criticality of this issue:
“What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying ‘no’ to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying ‘no’ in the wrong way can jeopardize that.” - Source: Lifehack
So how does one artfully decline without finding their office possessions in an unmarked cardboard box? Clearly it’s important to be judicious in your thought process, but is there a good means of deciding whether no is the right answer? Tammy Strobel of Rowdy Kittens shares her tips on how to make up your mind:
“Sleep on it. Maybe you were invited to a big event, but aren’t sure if you should go? Then sleep on it. If you’re feeling unsure about something a good night sleep might do the trick. I know when I’m sleep deprived my decision making skills aren’t stellar. Don’t be rash, be thoughtful.
Go for a walking meditation. I’m a big fan of taking really long walks (between 2 and 3 hours) in the park. I usually bring my camera, a writing pad and my thoughts. I listen to the birds, insects chirping and wind blowing through the trees. Walking clears my mind and helps me focus on the right choice.
Listen to your instinct. Listen to your gut, instincts, 6th sense or whatever you want to call it. The value of instinctive insight has been disregarded by many people. But I think our brain stores and holds onto information we might not be consciously aware of. We have these kinds of feelings and hunches for a reason, but we tend to ignore them when we should be listening.” – Source: Rowdy Kittens
Now that you’ve decided that no is the correct response, how should you handle the situation? Therese Haberman at Suite101.com offers these words of wisdom:
Location, location, location. – “Find a good place to talk to your boss privately, without ringing telephones or unwanted intrusions. Pick a less stressful time of the day, like after hours, when she is not preoccupied with getting the work done.“
Be logical, calm and concise. – “Be mindful and sensitive to the fact that she will likely have a knee jerk reaction to your request, so be tactful and diplomatic in your explanation of what you are declining to do and your reasoning.“
Choose your words wisely. - “Do not phrase your refusal in the form of a refusal. Instead of saying that you will not do the task, start by stating that you are having difficulty with completing the assignment. This will give her a chance to rethink the situation in a way that does not undermine her effectiveness or authority.“
Redirect. - “Offer an alternative solution to how she can get it done (e.g., assigning others or a team to complete it).“
Avoid public confrontation. - “Do not make her look bad or question her motives in front of others. This will be a losing situation for both of you.“
Know the rules. – “If the task presents a moral dilemma, many employers have a code of ethics that would allow you to refuse to do something, such as lying to a customer, to protect you from reprimand. This is a last resort, as it may damage your relationship with your manager.“
Take notes. – “Document the situation, circumstances and any action taken against you for future reference.” – Source: Suite101.com
Good stuff, but now it’s your turn. Please help everyone increase their skills by sharing your advice on how to say no (or you can practice your newfound skills and just say “no” to my request for assitance.) And if you happen to invent a time machine, please go back to find a younger me and share your words of wisdom. It won’t avoid a raging tirade but just might save my pride.