Article: When and how to say 'NO' without burning the bridges


When and how to say 'NO' without burning the bridges

Remember Blues' song, 'Sorry seems to be the hardest word'? Well, the news is 'sorry' has been replaced with 'no' - as saying it too often lands one in trouble!
When and how to say 'NO' without burning the bridges

No one wants to risk being called a ‘no person’. We want people to like us for being a ‘yes person’; one who yields to people’s requests unquestioningly. But, is it any good? Perhaps not. And, former RBI governor, Raghuram Rajan concurs too. 

Last week at the launch event of his book, I Do What I Do, he talked about his journey and hinted upon the importance of the ‘N’ word in pressure situations. Reflecting on his tenure as the RBI chief he said, "You are not quite in the place of a bureaucrat because most bureaucrats do not have the freedom to say no but you as the RBI Governor have to make a judgement as to what is appropriate or not for the long run benefit of the economy. Just because the government wants something doesn't mean that you always say yes, you sometimes have to say no.”

Do you see the point he made? Well, he meant to say that no matter which level in the hierarchy you are, you are bound to face pressure situations. Unfortunately, you will also be expected to say yes. But, through his statement, he implies one mustn’t abandon reason and say ‘no’ when it is most appropriate.

While we know it’s easier said than done.  However, when the time comes, the following list of advice will surely release you from the catch-22 situation. 

Carefully assess the request

The request can be from your client, manager or a coworker, but you can’t give in to pressure. There has to be an end to your saying yes to everyone and everything. For that you will need to begin with some introspection. Do you think what’s been requested of you is an exciting opportunity? Most importantly, do you have the bandwidth to take on more work? Is this a long-term or a short-term commitment? Will it limit your ability to focus on other projects you are currently working on? The point is that you must have your priorities set out straight because you are aware of your work load. If you already have plenty on your plate then say no because a yes, in this case, will be worse than saying no. 

Give context 

Tell them why you have to refuse to take on more work. What good is it anyway to say yes when you know it is wise to say no. Make them understand your situation and do so persuasively. They shouldn’t feel you are rejecting it unthinkingly or that you don’t care about their request. It will only add to their frustration and may jeopardise your relationship with them. Tell them about the projects you are tied up with and that it will be unfair to commit to something which is of critical value to them. 

Watch your tone

Your body language gives away more than what you can imagine. This means you have got to be wary of the way as well as how you speak. Apparently, you know in your head that you can’t say yes, but that doesn’t mean you diss them in the first instance. Be kind and respectful. Look interested when they speak with you. Look them in the eye. Don’t show reluctance on your face by grinning or a sigh. Furthermore, don’t look and sound unsure since it gives them false hope. If you aren’t firm they will think it fine to chase you and persuade you into saying yes.

A middle path

Alright, you know you want to say no, but also know that your refusal may cost them? Ok, then how about helping them in your own little ways? Sit them down and make them aware of stages where you would like to pitch in such as a brainstorming session. Your proposal to help despite your busy schedule is enough to show that you can accommodate their request. If you, however, can’t do it then have someone from your team work with them. This gesture shows maturity because you are willing to delegate and giving your team members a chance to rise and shine. Besides, this will also put an end to your obsessively clinging on to requests that come your way!

So, do you get the drift? No amount of saying ‘yes’ will help you if you don’t learn to say ‘no’. Of course, you want to be visible and applauded for your ‘forever ready-to-help’ attitude, but it can put you in a spot too. So, stop worrying that you refused to do accept more work or do a favour will severe cordial ties with your colleagues. If you stand your ground with valid reasons and they are mature enough, everyone will go home happy.

It is only apt to conclude with what John Lydgate once said: 

You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.” 

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Topics: Watercooler

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