Question: I’m not a very assertive person. How do I learn to say No to people who ask me to do things I don’t really want to do? I have this problem not just with my colleagues but with my boss too.
Answer: Don’t think you’re alone. We all find ourselves in situations where we say “Yes” to others when we really want to say “No”. For example, the friend who insists on buying you another round, or the boss who sees you as the willing workhorse; or the mother-in-law who invites herself to stay.
You may think you are being "Mr or Mrs Nice Guy" by going along with these requests but the chances are they won't see it that way and will simply impose on you again. You have exposed your weakness for them to exploit.
Reacting angrily to what you might see as an unreasonable request is equally inappropriate. It may result in you being seen as hostile. In the workplace an angry refusal to do a piece of work may brand you as being un-cooperative.
The only viable solution that does not upset others or make you feel bad is the assertive one.
A good definition of assertiveness is when you stand up for your rights while accepting the rights of others. For example, if you’re not contractually obliged to do what you’re being asked, you’re within your rights to say No, just as much as the other person is within their assertive rights to ask you. If a problem develops, the assertive way to resolve it is to work together on a solution.
So, here’s a step-by-step guide on how to say No assertively.
1. Check any contractual obligations you may have, such as a duty to work occasional overtime. Only say No if you’re not obliged to comply.
2. Get in touch with how you feel. If saying No feels wrong in your gut, then don’t do it. You must be sure it’s what you want.
3. Now say "No". Make it the first word out of your mouth so that others can see you’re not in two minds. Remind yourself that they’ll respect you more for being so definite.
4. Think through your fears about their possible reactions. Be rational about them. Don’t let the fear of what they might think of you force you to do something you don’t want to do.
5. Be determined to use a clear assertive style: no ifs and buts, no excuses, no apologising.
6. Thank the person for considering you for the request; say you are flattered and honoured.
7. Don't feel you have to find solutions to their problem; don't dwell on it afterwards or feel responsible for their problem.
If an outright No is difficult for you, work up to it by using one of the following template answers… if they fit your circumstances. Don’t use them as excuses if they aren’t true. That just makes you feel worse and can get you into a ton of trouble when people find out the truth.
1. I can’t right now, but I can do it later.
2. I’m really not the best person to do it.
3. I just don’t have any room in my calendar right now.
4. I can’t but let me give you the name of someone who might be able to help.
5. I’m in the middle of some very pressing projects and can’t spare the time.
6. I’ve had a few things come up and I need to deal with those first.
7. I’d rather say No than only give it half my attention.
8. I’m really focusing on other things right now.
9. I don’t have any experience with that kind of work.
10. I’m not taking on any new projects at the moment.
Finally here are two examples of the expert way to say No. The first is an e: mail sent by a manager who had been pressured to join a project which she didn't want to do... "I'd like you to know that I'm honoured that you should have thought about asking me to do this job and under other circumstances I would have loved to be able to say "Yes". It sounds like an interesting project. I'd like you to know that it was kind of you to have considered me. Please let me know how things progress. I'm sure it will be an outstanding success."
And here is self-help guru Stephen Covey relating a meeting with a colleague on whom he wanted to offload some urgent work. The colleague gently took Stephen to a wallchart on which were listed his current projects. “Stephen, I’ll do whatever you want me to do. But tell me. Which of these projects would you like me to delay or cancel?” Stephen smiled. No way was he going to be held responsible for delaying his colleague’s work and went off to find a less accomplished manager to do his work.
© 2005, Eric Garner, ManageTrainLearn.com
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