Learning to Say No

computer with productivity spreadsheetsSeveral years ago my husband and I were walking from the parking garage to our church in downtown Orlando. In my opinion, he had been saying yes to too many things, so I wanted to get him to practice saying no: “Repeat after me. No.” His response was (perhaps a little predictable) “Nnnyes.”

It was a somewhat humorous interchange that probably kept going a little beyond what was funny (we had fun with it though). But really, it is truly difficult to say no. In my mind it’s more difficult that asking for money or speaking (which routinely ranks among things people are most scared of).

In the nonprofit world, it becomes even more difficult. People are counting on us. Things need to got done and someone needs to do. In some organizations people think you’re a snob if you say no – thinking it’s about not wanting to do the task rather than recognizing that in order to say yes to something you’re saying no to something else (as a professional fundraiser that could include asking for a major gift that’s going to help your organization start a new program that will impact hundreds of lives – an extreme example I know, but a potential one).

By re-framing how we think about no, perhaps we’ll feel more comfortable with that little 2-letter word. Here are some benefits to learning to say no.

  • Stress – Overscheduling of time dose cause stress. Learning to say no, and thereby increasing control over your calendar, will automatically reduce your stress (even if the first few times are stressful). The freedom you experience will soon overshadow the fear of saying no.
  • Professional Image – No one person can do everything. If you already have something scheduled and can’t do something, it is fine to say no – and it is to be expected of a professional person. You don’t have to explain why you’re not available. Whether you have a business meeting, are taking a child to the doctor or had time blocked on your calendar to write or plan your next campaign; simply say that you already have a commitment at that time (it really does get easier to say with practice).
  • Skill Improvement – If you’re not spreading yourself too thinly by trying to be all things to all people, you’ll be able to spend more time become better at the things you already like doing, are part of your core responsibilities and that you’d like to learn to do better.
  • Satisfaction with How Time is Spent – We tend to say yes to things out of some misplaced sense of obligation. If you really want to spend more time with your donors, writing your next appeal letter or sending notes to donors, say no to doing things you don’t have time for and recommend someone else for the task.
  • Increased Respect – It’s easy for coworkers to lose respect for those who act like doormats (always bending over backwards to be helpful can be perceived that was). A little pushback can help create a more balanced relationship (recognizing that even nice people will take advantage of those who say yes all the time).
  • Say Yes to Activities with Greater Impact – As I mentioned earlier, saying yes always means saying no to something else. As a professional, you should get to choose which areas to focus on first (based on appropriate planning and integration with organizational goals), However you delegate that to someone else when you say yes to everything that comes up. Choose which areas you need to focus on so that you’ll have time to do them well then other activities can be added in as time allows.
  • Overcommitment Decreased and Quality of Work Increased – Overcommitment = rushed work. Rushed work = poor quality. Poor quality = tarnished reputation. Enough said.

Even knowing all those benefits are you still about to say yes? Take a moment to pause, take a deep breath and take a look at your calendar. That simple act of calendar checking can give you time to reflect on what you really have bandwidth (time) to effectively complete.

As a side note, it’s really okay to build in ‘margins’ during your day. You know, time that’s uncommitted that will give you time to do all the unexpected urgent things that come up. Because we all know that in the nonprofit world, there are things that come up that we just can’t say no to. But by not over-committing, we can still have time to get those done – without killing ourselves in the process.

Would you like someone to bounce ideas off, help you stay focused, celebrate with and learn how to get more done? Email me at kirsten@bullockconsulting.net so we can schedule a time to chat about what your needs are – and about how I might be able to help. Looking forward to connecting soon!

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