Learn when is the right time to accept and how to say “yes.”
There’s a posting making the rounds on social media about the habits of ultra-productive or efficient people that make them successful. Like most of these things, it’s packaged in easy-to-digest bullet points. The one that really gets me is: “They say no.”
The argument for saying “no” is variously expressed as honoring their previous commitments. Or, that saying “yes” to something is saying “no” to something else.
What It Means To Say “No”
However, in the context of these bullet points, when I see that, I see someone saying “no” because all that matters to them is their own time, their own reputation, and their own accomplishments. I see someone who isn’t a team player.
Now, it’s an attribute of this sort of bullet point list that there’s little nuance or context to these behaviors. Obviously, if someone’s honoring a previous commitment, they must have said “yes” at least once.
But this article neatly ignores something I take as a given: In a professional setting, your time is not 100% your own, and neither are your tasks, objectives, or success. In a situation like that, when you walk around saying “no,” you’re saying, “you’re on your own, suckers.”
A bullet list also avoids the reasons you might say “no.” Because it focuses on preserving one’s personal productivity, it elevates an aggressive state of denial to a place of admiration. It fails to consider what it is you’re saying “yes” or “no” to: There are some requests to which you should say “no,” while there are others you should say “yes” to.
Choosing When To Say “Yes”
But saying “yes” doesn’t mean you’ve given someone a blank check to consume your time and attention. You still have control over that, and you still have responsibility for it.
So how do you say “yes,” keep that control, and not become the ostracized jerk in your office?
You find the right way to say “yes,” according to the situation:
- The conditional yes – You’re saying yes, but setting some terms. You might say, “I can help, but I can’t do it until next week.” Or, “I can help with X and Y, but I won’t be able to do Z.” Or, maybe you have reservations about the activity or how it’s being approached. Then you might say, “Have you thought about X?” or “I think we’ll need to have an answer to Y.” You can follow up your other thoughts with a conversation on the challenges – either the competing demands on your time, the difficulties of the problem, or something else. What’s really important here is to say “yes” first – otherwise you’re really providing a passive aggressive “no.”
- Just say yes – Be a team player. Jump in with both feet, no reservations. Join the team! Accept that what’s being asked is something that’s needed and valuable, and show that you’re behind it. Also accept that you’re going to have to make some adjustments to your plans.
- Say yes, AND – Don’t just say yes, bring your best self to the party. What other ideas have you got? Where have you seen this problem before, and what worked then? Or – What if the original idea wasn’t big enough? If you take it further, will the result be better? Where’s the big win? Help find that, and commit to making it happen.
We’ll get to the problem of being a people-pleaser who says “yes” all the time, but the point is, saying “no” to protect yourself is a recipe for containing yourself in a box, and that imaginary box will be all too visible to the people around you. Next week, we’ll talk about “How to Say No.”