Lessons in Time Management reinforce a foundational concept—learning to say “No.” To own your time, you’re supposed to be comfortable saying “No!” to those time bandits who toss their emergencies onto your lap, or bypass protocols for approvals, or whatever. “Just Say No” is touted as the fundamental tool in managing your workload and priorities.
Personally, I hate saying or hearing “No.” It’s so final. It’s so inflexible. It lacks creativity. It shuts down any alternatives. While it may preserve your personal schedule, what’s it actually doing to move the issue forward?
There’s another way to handle this situation. Instead of saying “No”, consider “Under What Circumstances Can I Say Yes?” That changes everything. Now, those circumstances might be “When Hell freezes over” but, hey, at least you’re giving options.
But seriously, this “Under What Circumstances” technique has enormous power, especially when negotiating for goods or services. I taught this concept to my vendors through blunt repetition. Whenever I’d ask them to add something to our service offering, inevitably I would hear “No, that’s not included in the contract.” Really? Who said anything about the contract? All I asked for was more services. So I’d say “Under what circumstances can you provide this service?” After they’d scratch their heads for a moment, the real discussion would start. Ok, maybe it would cost more, or perhaps I’d have to take something else out of scope. At least we were having a real conversation that, before, stopped at “no”.
This technique works equally well in reverse, when you’re the one being asked to do something above and beyond your capacity. If you say “No”, then you become the problem. You are the limiting factor, the nay-sayer, the not-a-team player. That person who made the unreasonable request gets to walk away as a disgruntled victim who will, at the very least, be angry and resentful, and at worst, complain and escalate until you end up doing it anyway, only this time with your boss’ gun to your head.
You can turn those tables by offering circumstances for consideration. Sure, you can run that report if they are willing to wait for their other reports… or if you can hire a temp… or perhaps you can teach them how to do it themselves. Anyone coming to you in good faith will be eager to consider options to get what they want. And if they reject all your ideas… well, then, they’ve just become the problem.
So the next time you’re tempted to “Just Say No”… think about just saying “Maybe.”