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Saying No

by Nevin Danielson

Saying "no" is often counter-intuitive. Can you imagine being interviewed for a role and saying, "I'm quite skilled at denying requests from my colleagues. Even if they are specific and have a good reason for why they're asking me, I'm able to decline when it's not the right thing to do."

Even for those of us that are already within iQmetrix and making a contribution, declining a colleague's request seems against the culture.

  • "We don't say No!"
  • "We are enthusiastic."
  • "We want our peers to succeed."
  • "We step in when someone else is in need."

And, uh, there are power dynamics.

Saying "no" is often counter-intuitive. However, having an up-front, deliberate discussion with your colleagues is a necessary, healthy component of making a contribution. Why is saying "no" important?

Because the truth is inescapable. We can't avoid the math. Some activities are more valuable than others and we can't do it all. In fact, even if we can do it all, we still have to choose how much time we give to each objective. Some tasks will get less of our time, energy and creativity than what we're capable of giving. We each have limited capacity. Even if you're super-human and working at 10x effectiveness, there's still a cap.

Also, when it comes to how you make your contribution, you are the expert on how you spend your time. If you're on a city bus, would it be reasonable to ask the driver to swing by the store so you can pick up some milk? It's logistically possible, but it takes them so far away from their goals and commitments that we don't even fathom that request.

In our complex environment, it's gets harder to know what's the right thing to do. The work is interwoven, the dependencies are endless and each stakeholder seems to have a different, competing perspective.

To summarize where we're at if you've read this far,

  1. You shouldn't work on everything others might expect of you.
  2. It would appear that saying "no" is bad for your career.

Can we navigate this? In my experience, it is possible. In fact, it often opens us up to creative, productive solutions previously unexplored. The answer is dialogue. Objective, clinical, take-out-the-emotion-dialogue to explore context, implications, value, relationships and benefit to the company. Instead of an immediate "yes," it's important to engage with your colleagues and stakeholders to make the choices that are best for the group.

I'll follow up with more detail about how that dialogue might look, but for now, here are a couple questions.

  1. Which work is more valuable for my team and the organization?
  2. What is the most effective use of my time and contribution?

Recognize them? I said there are two primary reasons you might need to say "no." Assessing them is a great place to start the conversation.

For more right now, I recommend the TED talk Dare to Disagree by Margaret Heffernan (12:41).



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