The situation with a colleague, “Kalyani is always running late on assignments. Agreed she’s a senior in another project, but I want to be able to turn down her requests sometimes. I just don’t get around it. It’s not fair!”
Does this circumstance seem familiar? How many of us find it tough to decline someone in spite of knowing that we can’t be involved in the task or help them in any way.
Why does this happen?
Reasons could be one or a combination of these – we don’t want to upset someone and try to be nice; we’re not assertive enough and buckle under the pressure; we fear the relationship will be harmed and/or the person is in a certain position where we just cannot pass of the work.
Boils down to – we want to please people asking the favour and are ready to oblige even if it’s at the expense of our own time and priorities.
Agreed, helping people is endearing, and in work situations, one is seen as a supportive team player, but the choice of being able to decline must always remain with us.
Here are a few suggestions to apply when you’re stuck in that uncomfortable spot.
Check your schedule and revert
If you cannot furnish a negative response immediately, then say that you need to review your schedule and respond later. Don’t procrastinate on the revert; the earlier you do it, the easier it is for either side to organize completing the task. This time you’ve bought can be utilized to draft an appropriate reply, which should be kept brief avoiding lengthy explanations.
“It’s only by saying no that you can concentrate on the things that are really important”- Steve Jobs
Be genuine and provide a reason
If we end up making excuses, chances are we’ll sink further into the situation. It’s best to give an honest explanation about why you’re unable to offer support. If the person asking truly understands, they may back off else move on to the next point! (Remember – if you’re not willing to help at any cost, even your excuses will be seen as just that – an excuse!)
If reasoning doesn’t work, politely decline
There’s a point when you’ll need to decline. Appreciate those seeking your assistance but politely refuse.
You’ll find that even without reason, it’s that first breakthrough that’s important with the ones pushing their way through things. Knowing you’re someone who always succumbs, they find an easy target. If you decline once, it’s less stress-free with the future requests, and the individual realizes to not take you for granted.
Being unavailable works when the activity is time-bound
“This cost-sheet is urgent; the client needs it by day-end tomorrow and really needs your expertise.”
A firm yet civil response is – “Thanks for considering me for this job, but I am on leave tomorrow and have to finish pending tasks before leaving for today.”
If you’re someone whose planned your work calendar effectively, including, let’s say, a family vacation, and if the assignment is an exigency, you’re justified in taking a rain check.
Suggest alternative member/resources
A department head called me to make an important quality presentation two days before the due date. I was in the midst of a crucial assignment and knew I had to refuse. That’s exactly what I did but in a different manner.
I said, “I know this is really something you’d like me to do, but I am terribly caught up with a training workshop. Do you think you can ask Nayana to start editing last year’s presentation, can send her my part of the slides?”
Nayana was from the HOD’s team. Being aware that the latter had checked on me quite late, she agreed to the alternative offered. We both knew the job would get done; it was just a matter of better supervision in this case.
I remember when I was starting off my career, the Head-HR wanted me to attend office on a Saturday off to discuss a position. Knowing fairly well it wasn’t urgent, I obliged. The only way to show my displeasure was by leaving as soon as the meeting concluded, instead of waiting around the whole day.
When one is at a certain level with respect to your profession, saying no is less challenging than when you’re just learning the ropes, especially when the approach is from the senior leadership cadre. We must, however, wait for an opportune moment to give honest feedback.
We must value ourselves instead of trying to find worth through others’ appreciation. The first step is not feeling guilty while drawing those personal boundaries.
Being in control and empowered to make decisions starts when you learn to say no!
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