Sometimes the Best Way to Get Things Done is to Say “No”

Posted by Kristin Arnold on October 2, 2008

There’s a misconception in the workplace that good team players do whatever it takes to get the job done.  For the most part, that’s true.  You may be hindering team performance by saying, “Yes” when really you should be saying, “No.”  For example, you might:

Be the Wrong Person.  You don’t have the answer or someone else is in a better position to answer the question.  Refer your teammate to the right person for the job.  “Joe is a real whiz when it comes to pulling together those numbers.  I recommend you ask him.”

Have a Higher Priority.  Let your team members know what you are working on and the implications of a missed deadline.  “Which of these three things do you not want me to do?”  Get them to prioritize their demands.  Either your priorities are correct, or your team will let you know if your priorities are out of whack.

Have Schedule Conflicts.  Confirm when the task needs to be completed.  Due to the urgency of the issue, you may not be able to drop everything to complete it.  “Let me check my schedule.  Let’s see; the earliest I could get to it would be next Wednesday.”  You may be able to renegotiate the schedule to say, “Yes!”

Create a Learning Opportunity.  A good team player does whatever needs to be done, often times picking up the ball when it clearly caters to a team member’s strengths.  Just because you’re good at PowerPoint doesn’t mean you have to put all the slides together all the time.  Take the opportunity to train others on how to create animated slides so you won’t have to do all the slides all the time.

Have Legal, Ethical or Moral Issues.  Explain why you can’t or won’t cover up a mistake or ignore an unethical action.  Appeal to their conscience with a “feeling statement” because feelings are non-negotiable.  “I really wouldn’t feel right about doing this.”  From your conversation, you may even find out that you based your decision on some erroneous information.

There’s nothing wrong with saying no to a fellow team member; just watch the way you say it.  Orvel Ray Wilson of the Guerrilla Group suggests a few techniques on how to say no:

Alternative No.  Before saying your final “No,” try offering some advice, suggestions or offer to help with a portion of the task you can complete quickly.

Flat No.  Just that.  No emotional content.  Use when no justification is required, and do not offer one.  Use sparingly and with care or you’ll risk being seen as uncooperative.

I’d Love To . . . But No.  You’re softening the flat no with, “I’d love to, but . . .”  Provide a reason or excuse why you can’t agree to take on the task at this time.

Let Me Get Back To You On That.  A tactic for avoiding saying yes right away, without saying no.  In the intervening time, the demand may be taken elsewhere.

Conditional No.  This appears to be a yes.  “I’ll agree if you will do . . . , and you will provide . . . .”

Apologetic No.  This is the soft letdown.  “I’m really sorry, but I have a previous commitment that I can’t break.”

Contrary to popular belief, you can say, “No” and still be considered a good team player.

Question:  Do you have trouble when it comes to saying no?

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