Friday, August 2, 2013

Finding the Balance: Saying Yes, No, and Not Now

text on page - no no no no no no no no yes
Photo by Abhi, found on Flickr, licensed via Creative Commons

I will say “no” when asked to assist on project. I will say no. Can say no, I can do this. Oh shit, I just said, “I would be happy to.” — Lynn Beisner

Over on Unclutterer, I recently wrote a post on the challenge of saying “no.” But I've got some more thoughts I want to share.

When we talk about being protective of our time, and saying “no” more often, we're not talking about being overly selfish with our time, or turning down opportunities that take us in directions we want to go. We do things to help our family and friends; we volunteer our time for organizations we support; we set aside time to learn new skills and follow our dreams. And sometimes in our careers we need to say “yes” to things we'd prefer to turn down; that's reality.

But it's easy to say “yes” to too many requests, even when we don't need to. For example, I've certainly fallen into the trap of agreeing to take on volunteer jobs I didn't really want to do — and then resenting it. That's not good for anyone. As Byron Katie said, “A dishonest yes is a no to yourself.”

Since finding the right balance between saying “yes” and saying “no” can be such a challenge, I'd like to share some other perspectives that might help.

1. Let's start with Warren Buffett, whose words I found on the website Minimal Mac:
The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say “no” to almost everything.
2. OK, we're not all Warren Buffett types. But I bet many of us can relate to these words from Chris Garrett, found via Jon Morrow:
Too much in my career I have been tending someone else’s garden, only to find my own withering and unloved. ... By saying “no” to the stuff that is wrong for us right now we have more capacity to say “yes” to the stuff that is right.
3. And here's Mark Forster:
By having a clear rule that we only say “yes” when we can say it wholeheartedly we can cut through all the guilt and manipulation and find the only thing that really matters — our own knowledge of what is right for us.
4. How to say no is often a challenge. I got a kick out of the letter that author E. B. White wrote back in 1956, even if I can't see using his words myself:
Thank you for inviting me to join the committee of the Arts and Sciences for Eisenhower.

I must decline, for secret reasons.
5. For more advice on how to say no, here's Seth Godin:
You can say no with respect, you can say no promptly and you can say no with a lead to someone who might say yes.
6. Finally, here's some wisdom from Alisa Bonsignore about not overcommitting, which most of us can relate to. A client asked her to take on a new project when she was already fully booked, and she said:
I’m sorry, but I’m booked through next Friday. I really want to give your project the attention that it deserves. If we can start the following Monday, I’d be happy to take it on.
That's not a flat-out “no,” but rather a “not now.” And it worked, because here's the response she got from her client.
“I want you to say no,” he said. “I don’t want to sacrifice quality. This tells me that you’re conscientious, you know your limits, and when it’s time for my project, it will get your full attention.”
Related Posts:
Miss Manners: How to Say No
The Importance of Saying No: Two Perspectives
Yet Again: Learning to Say No
How to Say No: Advice from 8 Experts


thelittlebird said...

This post is timely for me. Some advice on how to say no AFTER you've said yes and then regretted it would be extremely helpful.

I took on a volunteer treasurer job that I am not enjoying as I am not extremely excited about the organization and I don't have much in common with the other board members. It's a community group that my kids are involved with so I need to exit with grace and not burn bridges. Any suggestions?

chantal said...

I'm definitely not great at saying no. But as a consultant, my job really is about saying 'yes' a lot. So its a thought provoking topic. I need to implement the no policy more forcefully in school and church commitments for sure. I LOVED the EB White quote. I only wish I will have the chance to quote it some day in the right context.