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A lot of people apprehend saying no to other people’s request when they are already busy with their own important work, especially in highly relationship oriented cultures. The main reason quoted is that saying no is disrespectful to the other person or can show a lack of willingness to collaborate.
No can indeed sound rude if you actually have the time and expertise to help the person that comes to you for support. However, if you really cannot help the other, saying no is about setting boundaries, and it doesn’t have to be rude.
Here’s a simple approach too saying that I have been using for many years and that people in the different cultures I have worked with, all agreed can work without being offensive.
2. Appreciate them for thinking that you can help
3. Say no.
4. Explain why
5. Offer alternatives
Once again, it all starts with how well you listen, or not. If the other person feels – and remember that they are the best judge as to whether you have listened to them or not – you haven’t listened, the rest becomes futile
Here’s an example. One of my peers comes to my desk to ask me whether I could take the time to discuss with them some execution issue he/she is facing with project XYZ.
Me: ” If I understand properly, you would like me to spend some time with you to discuss this execution issue that you have with project XYZ, is that right?”
Peer: ” That’d be great.”
Me: Thanks for thinking that I could help you with that, I really appreciate it and I;d love to help out. However, I am tied up with a presentation I need to finish for client ABC before lunch, do you think we could sit down together sometime this afternoon?”
Now you tell me, reader, is this rude? Does this show an unwillingness to help?
I have asked the same question to groups in France, the USA, Germany, India, China, Singapore and Australia and they all told me that this was neither rude nor a sign of unwillingness to cooperate. So what is the problem? In my opinion, a lack of assertiveness because a lot of us think that if we put our needs at the same level as other people’s needs we will negatively impact our relationship with them.
Now, of course, this 5 step approach may not work when you need to refuse your boss as he/she usually knows what you are working on. The best way to deal with superiors that have unrealistic expectations concerning your capacity to deliver is to ask them to help you prioritize your different assignments.
Supervisor: ” Guillaume, could you please get me extract the performance data of project ABC and send it to me.”
Me: “Sure, would be glad to help. Before I attend to it, I’d just like to understand how much of a priority this task is compared to the other 3 tasks that you have asked me to work on. Could you help me prioritize them, please.”
In my experience, this works with a huge majority of people. Most managers, know that there is only so many hours in a day and that if they want you to work well – remember their performance appraisal depends not only on the quantity of work you do but on the quality of the work you do – there’s only so much you can do in a day. I stress the fact that MOST managers are aware of this. Indeed there will always be a minority of managers that think that slave driving works better. According to my observation, this is a dying breed and they are rarely the most successful managers.
To conclude, I am not advocating for people to say no to each other all the time. I am just saying that saying no does not have to be a traumatic event in my relationship to others, if we have a good reason to refuse them.