Learn to say “No”

Saying “No” in the workplace is an essential part of ensuring you communicate your intentions comfortably, clearly and without wasting words or unnecessary time.

After all, you would agree that a true and authentic “ no” comes from a person who understand where the boundaries are.

A person that is wise when judging her actual ability, capacity and desire to deliver.

A person that doesn’t end up promising what she can’t or won’t be able to deliver.

 This said, not everyone finds the courage to say “no” when interacting with colleagues.

In this article we discuss how to say “no” from a position of a mature, responsible and assertive person.

The case

During the first two coaching sessions with my client Aneeta, a middle-aged marketing manager working for a consulting firm, I have the perception Aneeta is one of those people driven by the desire to please others.

A desire that often drives her to take on board tasks and roles against her will.

When I invite Aneeta to identify some of the scenarios and motivations that move her to be agreeable beyond the acceptable limits, her answer is:

“I mainly take on board additional requests from my boss and her colleagues.   

 I accept them with the intent to please people and ensure they are happy.  

 The truth is that I don’t like disappointing people, especially if they work with me.

 Deep inside, I am afraid to confront those people who I find particularly dominant.

 Those with whom I would probably end up having a disagreement if I said “no”.

 To avoid unpleasant confrontations, I find myself accepting undesirable tasks or give an in-between answer, which is never to the point and as direct as “no” would be.

 As I prompt Aneeta to recognise the unwanted consequences of her behavior, she admits:

“I resent my boss.

I feel used.

 I’m the victim of my own choices.

 I end up compromising the quality of my work.

  I run the risk of missing important deadlines”.

If you were Aneeta, what would you do differently?

Here are three steps that help you stand up for yourself and set healthy boundaries in the workplace.

1)    Recognize the Need and Desire of the other

 When you recognize the need and desire of your counterpart you understand and acknowledge her perspective, position and motivation.

This said, you don’t have the obligation to align yourself with her position let alone accept it.

Scenario A

I am aware that producing 3000 copies of your presentation helps you finalize your work faster…

Scenario B

I understand that for you it is important to promote John to the position of Finance Director.  I understand that by doing so, you recognize his effort throughout the past four years…  

2)    Express your Preference and Decline the request of your counterpart

 Express your position and perspective and state clearly where your boundaries are.

Scenario A

…right now I am working on our latest marketing campaign.  This task takes  priority in my agenda.

Scenario B

…I personally believe that John is not ready to face the imminent expansion of the company and needs one more year to prepare himself for the role of Finance Director. For this reason, I neither approve nor support his promotion.

STEP 3: Resist the temptation to justify your position

Stay truth to your position.

Keep your final answer.

By staying firm on your answer your counterpart will understand that she can’t persuade you any further.

Ignore any second thoughts you may come up with.

Return to the place and the activity you have defined as your “priority”.

Silvia Bottini is the founder of bCoached, an international coaching practice helping executives and their team strengthen their Performance, Presence and Professional Reputation.

Fo Leadership coaching, HOGAN Assessments & Team coaching contact: silvia@bcoached.org