We let a lot of work creep onto our plate by not deciding (with clear intention) whether to say yes or no. In fact, we may not even consider whether we can even fulfill the request.  Then, time passes and we get angry when the requesting party is demanding of us.

People Make Requests

An actual person has to make a request, not a team or function or client organization. Listen to the person and the request.

Often someone makes a request as if we will “of course” simply say yes. Beware, your silence or your conversation may commit you to something you may not want or be able to do.

Then there is the person who asks. If its a boss or senior big dog, then we often say yes is the only answer. And yes may be the answer…just don’t blindly go there. Start with no in your mind.

Great executors are disciplined to ask questions. What exactly? With whom? By when? With what outcome? Many time we assume we know what the person is saying and wants. We understand those words. We’ve run that analysis or report before. We know what it means to communicate. But, do we really know what we are saying yes to this time?

The Five Ways to “NO”

  1. No, not now. My plate is full for the next X days/weeks/months. Let’s talk about when you need what (you can always go to #2). This is so simple, but we don’t do it enough.
  2. No, unless a current commitment can be changed. People like to off-load their random or not-so-random requests. If you are dealing with a person with a series of work you do for them, take a break and review the “portfolio” of work already scheduled. Show them with a picture…the person can then choose what’s most important. If there are non-negotiables, declare them.
  3. No, I/we don’t have the capability to get your desired outcome. This is a tricky one. On one hand you are exposing a weakness. On the other hand, you are sounding an alarm or informing the requester that they are asking for something for which they will get sub-par resutls.
  4. No, unless you can offer some of your resources to work with one of my people. I love this one that I learned from a crafty consultant who could say “yes, if you send one of your people over for the weekend”–worked like a charm to readjust the timetable or deliverable.
  5. No, this doesn’t fit in with our charter, priorities, scope, etc.  Let me suggest the person who can help you, or give your team some coaching on their plan. OK, this is a tough one, because the person wouldn’t be asking unless they thought you should or could do the work. But, be real. If the work is not what you should, could, would do-find a way that  you don’t.

Of course, you can turn all of these except #5 into a “yes, but let’s talk about..when, what, with whom, to what outcome.” This is not about putting your hand up to say “No, no, and furthermore, NO.” It’s about being committed to the full accountability you have fore deliverables and results to your organization.

The Real Problem

OK, the real problem here is not the annoyance of requests. The real problem is that our integrity and our actual achievement is at stake. If we load up our plate with too much or the wrong things, we will likely falter in quality or actual successful delivery. The truly committed action is to be clear about what can be accomplished by whom and when.

Now, I’m not saying you won’t do things for certain people because–simply, you need to. Just don’t default t0 “yes” before you consider the options.

What are you saying yes to that you shouldn’t?