The Heart Nos
I vividly remember my first big NO, professionally speaking.
I’d been successfully and quickly climbing the corporate ladder at a Fortune 500 company. A corporate take-over ensued, and a nonsensical re-organization was initiated by our new parent company.
After a sterling couple years of great reviews, excelling at my job, blowing sales goals out of the water, and building a great book of loyal clients, my entire job was re-organized. I was given a new direct manager and my book of clients was shuffled off across new account managers. My new boss was terrible for a lot of reasons I won’t go into, not the least of which was every-morning meetings that he made us sit through, which contained twenty minutes of football-related similes and metaphors before we had to touch the “Rudy” sign above the sales pit. I hated him, and it was tough to separate the job from those feelings.
One day, my new boss sat me down and ran through a list of infractions he thought I’d committed. I countered most of them with my reasoning for taking said actions, thinking we were having a discussion.
My mistake; we were not. The conversation ended with a threat: You need to go home tonight and decide whether or not you want this job.
As if! This, from a person who was praising fraudulent sales practices, who scoffed at HR policy. A guy who mansplained everything and was an under-performing coworker before he was promoted.
I was so, so angry. Livid. Furious. Seeing red…
Then: I went home and thought about it rationally, as a business decision, without the attachment of my personal feelings toward my boss. Obviously, those feelings were valid. They affected how I felt about myself and my work on a daily basis. They informed the big decision I would make. But I didn’t have to be angry. All I had to do was calmly open my mouth and say, “no.”
I walked into the office the next day feeling light, relieved, and happy. I met with the boss and said, “You know what? I did think about it, and I don’t want this job. Here is my two week notice.”
A major fireworks show went off in my brain at that moment to cue the epiphanies:
Saying NO can be healthy.
Saying NO can be a great idea.
Saying NO can feel good.
Saying NO doesn’t have to be contentious.
Knowing when to say NO is an absolutely necessary LIFE SKILL.
It’s About Time Management & Mutual Respect
There’s more to saying “no” than creating an ending.
NO doesn’t have to be The Absolute End of Things. It just means you can’t accommodate someone else’s specific needs at a specific juncture in time. It means you’re already doing what you can. You’re booked. Your schedule’s full. You’re out of bandwidth, and you ain’t got no wiggle room. It may surprise you to learn IT IS OK to say NO.
By the way, “doing what you can” doesn’t mean “working every single second of every single waking moment.”
It means doing what you mentally — and physically, in the realm of real human time — can take on. Even if that means you have an ENTIRE EVENING TO YOURSELF! Imagine! Imagine if you said you’d do a thing by a time, and you actually have enough time to do it. Imagine not having to apologize for running behind to every single person you talk to.
Imagine not having to bear the weight of all those yet unspoken apologies.
Imagine being less overwhelmed so you can do a better job at the work you have, instead of being sloppy and tight on time for everything. Imagine having the time to answer questions and have conversations about the work you’re doing instead of having to steamroll clients and coworkers in the discussion and planning phases so you can just get the work out on time. Imagine approaching problems thoughtfully, instead of with a sinking heart because you don’t have time to deal with unexpected obstacles.
Imagine not having to qualify and make excuses because you’ve been realistic about your time and your own needs.
Imagine what life can be when you set aside time for self-care and mental health, so that when you ARE working, you’re hitting deadlines, and you’re responding rationally, efficiently, and in a timely manner to the challenges that meet you. Imagine having said NO to enough people that you’re not letting down the people to whom you said YES. And imagine how much more confident and at-ease you’ll feel when you realize you’ve stopped letting people down. Imagine how much more confident the people you’re not letting down will have in your ability once they know you’ll only say YES if you can really do the job.
Imagine how much more others will respect you, if you respect yourself and are honest about your time restraints.
As the project manager on most of the jobs I take on, I have to know when I can say YES and when I have to decline. It’s a business decision, nothing else. I don’t have to feel badly about saying NO. I can recommend people who can take on tasks that I cannot. One of the ways I’ve built a solid client base is knowing when to say NO — because when I say YES, my clients know I mean it. They know they can rely on me, and that I’ll have what they need by the deadline. They know they can count on me.
Likewise, I have to be able to count on the people I employ. I have a great appreciation for people who know how to say NO wisely, because those are the people I know will do the job when they say they will. In this new place of balance, imagine what it would be like to have set aside eight hours for yourself to do a five hour task — just in case, because it’s better to come in with a little extra time, when it comes to clients, than it is to repeatedly blow deadlines.
This also works for the purpose of creating quotes and project timelines. If you think you’ll be done in twenty hours, add 50% to that. Bill for real hours. You won’t get hosed on your hourly rate, and you’ll likely come in under deadline and budget.
It’s Just Business
I’ve fired (or at least chosen not to rehire) many prospective contractors because they don’t know how to say NO. When someone leaves me hanging or is too busy to read documentation and instructions in regard to tasks I’ve already delegated and explained, it creates a ripple effect that spreads outward. This causes me to have to rearrange my schedule and sometimes inconvenience others in the race to keep those ripples from reaching and affecting my clientele. Sometimes I end up having to do the work myself, even though it usually takes me hours to set up documentation and training. The trick is, I’m usually able to accomplish these because I’ve built in extra time to deal with stuff like this. But that time is not billable to the client, and it sure doesn’t make me happy to have to use it.
People who have a pattern of saying YES to work I offer when they should have said NO, get a lot of “strikes” with me that don’t usually happen in more structured work environments. But they don’t get fourth and fifth chances to disrupt my business and schedule after me being clear about my expectations the first few times. I don’t have the time for it, and neither will your employer or clients. It’s just a matter of good business.
One-thousand times over, I would prefer a potential hire to tell me “I’m not available now, but in (x amount of time) I will be able to take on 5 hours per week,” or “I just can’t do that during this time period.” Given another day and another need, I’ll knock first at the door of someone I know who’s honest with me and themselves about their time restraints than someone who unilaterally answers YES to everything.
If your reason for saying YES to all things is that you’re not making enough money, this means you’ve created a demand for yourself without compensating yourself for that demand, and that’s bad business. It’s bad for you. Emotionally. Financially. In terms of your credibility and timeliness. Good clients, bosses, and coworkers don’t expect perfection at every moment of every day. No one expects zero mistakes or missed deadlines. But they will start to notice consistent patterns.
Think about whether your patterns could be broken by simply being realistic about the tasks ahead of you…by saying NO. Not all the times. Just every once in a while. Try it on. See how it fits.
Next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, try saying YES to saying NO. You may be surprised how well it serves you.