I get this question quite a bit… how do you say NO and not burn bridges… simple.. Be honest, scope out clearly and provide options.
IMPORTANCE OF SAYING NO
One of my mentors told me early in my career that “You can either be good at a few things or fail at everything”. Those words have stuck in my head for my entire career, which has really enabled me to truly provide quality and over deliver. I have always championed the idea that all I have is my name & credibility. As I’ve worked across the globe, my reputation for driving ideas into action is known and vouched for by many senior executives.
THE VALUE OF UNDER COMMITTING & OVER DELIVERING
Let’s remember what a small world it is. I’ve had many recruiters, executives and other acquaintances reach out to me and ask me, “I see that you know Pat, what do you think of their quality of work? Their values?”. It happens all the time.
It’s really important to NEVER OVER COMMIT & UNDER DELIVER! It’s so damaging to your name, your reputation and your credibility. I have worked with management consultants that have failed miserably in this area and it’s hard for me to recommend them to other clients, opportunities because of the broken trust. When I recommend people, I am vouching for their reputation and credibility. They are a reflection of me and my word.
With so many demands on our time, it’s important to have those conversations with the ones that request your time. Having a discussion regarding timelines, expectations really shows experience and professional maturity. The message that it shows is that you care about your reputation, their reputation and providing high quality outcomes.
SOME TACTICAL TIPS
You know I’m all about tactical tips. Never commit to a request before understanding the effort and time commitment required. I never sign a blank cheque for my time.
The key is not to say NO, it’s to provide options and help your client/boss brainstorm or even re-prioritize. If you only have 5 hours of bandwidth left, its okay to say “I have limited cycles this month, but I’ll have more time in two months after this project is completed”. Then, it’s easier to have a dialogue. The biggest compliment, is when someone wants your help in something.
- Understand Intent: What is the intent of the request? Really try to understand the overall objective and where they are trying to go to.
- Understand Scope: Ask good questions to really understand the scope and the impact. Is it required as an input in other activities? There could be a downstream impact on other strategic initiatives.
- Be Honest: DO NOT, I repeat.. DO NOT over-commit to activities and under-deliver. It’s the fastest way to lose a client and respect. Do you have the skills? expertise?
- Understand Timelines: Ask the question “When is the latest that I can get this back to you by?”. This is key, they may only need a portion of a deliverable or request by a certain time. Or you may think they need it in the next day or so, when in reality, they just need it in two weeks.
- Break it Down: If they want everything and the scope is too big, then break them into smaller activities. If it’s still not feasible, offer a few options. Perhaps, person XYZ could do ABC tasks.
People will respect you more for being honest with them, versus being a YES person! People like options as it provides them with more ideas and allows them to think more broader.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts and feedback! Feel free to share with others that are struggling with the art of saying NO elegantly…
P.S. Did you check out my tools & resources page? https://www.sapnamalhotra.io/tools/