It’s hard to say no. Let’s face it, some of us can’t even say no to telemarketers. So how do you say no to people you work with, live with, and care about?
The answer is not to focus on saying no, but to focus on saying yes more slowly.
What gets us in trouble is that yes is our fast, default answer to requests. Sometimes that’s the right thing to say. But sometimes you’re being asked merely because you’re the first person considered or because the request hasn’t been thought through. Often, it’s worth getting to yes a little more slowly. Here’s how you do that:
First, say, “Thanks very much for asking. Before I say yes, just let me make sure I understand what you’re asking for.”
Then ask some good questions. There are three basic types:
- May I ask why you’re asking me?
- Have you considered anyone else?
- Have you considered asking X? He’s got some experience with this.
What’s being asked of me?
- When you say “urgent,” what does that mean? When’s the latest it has to be done by?
- How much time will this take?
- If I could only do part of this, what part would you like me to do?
- What does “finished” look like for this?
What’s the big picture?
- Have you checked this out with my boss?
- How does this fit in with our key priorities for this week/month/year?
- What should I not do so I can do this?
If you use this approach, any of four things might happen:
- The person will answer all your questions, and you’ll be happy to say yes. (This doesn’t happen very often.)
- The person will say, “Good questions! Let me get back to you when I’ve got some answers.” And they may or may not come back. Because instead…
- The person may just ask someone who says yes faster.
- Sometimes you’ll be asked to stop with the questions and just do it.
Don’t start with the toughest, most senior person you work with. Instead choose someone with whom you think this approach might work, and a project that’s not too important. Practice the questions, and as you get more confident, use them in more situations with a wider range of people.
Here’s the bonus: ask these questions more often and you’ll start getting a reputation for being a strategic thinker. That makes you a more valuable player in your organization, which already has enough people who know how to say yes quickly.
Adapted from “Do More Great Work” by Michael Bunday Stanier, with permission from Workman Publishing.