Learning to say no

by Christina on April 1, 2010

I’ve been overcommitting to too many projects at work… my mentor’s advice:

“You have to learn to say no… if you are too cheap you’ll run around doing everyone else’s work for them. People will actually value you more if you are not always available to them.”

I think he’s right about that!

I’m not very good at saying no… is this a woman thing?

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Frank April 2, 2010 at 2:41 pm

No. Well, maybe the historical role of women in society might linger in some women and how they act in certain situations. But I myself am guilty of this pitfall, and I think many other people (including men) are. It is simply in some people's nature to think that they can do everything and take on more work than they should–for what I'm sure are a variety of reasons. Personally, I have always had the strongest leadership skills in crisis situations, and I think my mind often wants to create these crises, where I often perform best. Thus, I have never been bothered by procrastinating, because I know that my best work is often done when I have less time to do it. It is in these situations where I must be "in the zone"–concentrating with intense focus, with the same level of concentration one might need for drop-backs, headstand, or an arm-balance transition in yoga practice. Thus, procrastination–and not saying no–create a yogic experience. No wonder I don't mind! There's also the excitement of keeping yourself busy. I certainly did that in high school and college; many people do.

I will add, however, that this habit can be controlled. Leaving college and moving into the workforce, not knowing how to say no can initially work to your advantage because it makes you seem eager and willing to learn. It's especially good if you work in consulting: "We never say 'No' to clients." (As I type this, I realize this applies to you, no?)

Eventually, though, you have to learn to manage clients (of all types) and, in general, to push back. You move away from good "time management" meaning consuming copious caffeine and convincing yourself that "sleep is overrated." Or I guess some people don't. I, however, have learned that I prefer to relax sometimes and to be more judicious about the responsibilities I take on and the commitments I make.

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ACM April 2, 2010 at 9:20 pm

Hi Christina, it's Asako from yoga class. Just wanted to say hello as I found your blog last week and have been reading your back entries to catch up, and really enjoy them. 🙂

This entry definitely speaks to me, I had this same exact conversation with my supervisor recently. Her feedback to me was to focus my energy on noticing what is on my plate, and to be aware of what I am adding to it in big and small ways through my daily interactions with my colleagues and team members. ("You have to protect time to pursue your own research interests, and not give it away to other people's projects.") It's interesting to see, when I can force myself to mentally step back during conversations, how easily I could take on extraneous tasks if I'm not careful. It's a daily exercise in awareness.

Not sure if it's a woman thing, although most of my mentors and supervisors are women and mothers with careers, so it's easy for me to frame it in that reference too…

Anyway. I enjoy your entries! They make me think. Thank you for sharing.

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Kimberly April 3, 2010 at 12:52 am

I love saying no! It's so empowering. You can learn different ways to say it, but sometimes it's best just to keep it simple without further explanation – "I'm sorry, I can't." Often there's no need to give a specific reason (especially in social situations).

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roberto April 3, 2010 at 1:00 pm

Yes, it's better to say no and focus on doing a smaller portion of work well than to say yes to everyone and disappoint or stretch yourself too thin. your mind needs some downtime. it really does point to wanting to please everyone and that's admirable but not practical for your own health or for your career. and it's a human problem; men are guilty of trying to do too much too.

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