Voice Over - 1 March 2018

"Just Say No" is a super popular topic. It is the one I keep getting asked to repeat and revisit in coaching, workshops and private direct messages from the blog. Everyone wants to learn how. Everyone wants that secret, magic trick that will let them find within themselves the courage to respectfully tell others to go away and stop making demands on their time and attention.

No. Go read an old one. See? Easy peasy.


Haha! Okay that was fun. Back to business.

We are tempted to say that the reason we are so busy is other people – important people – are giving us too much work to do. But ask those important people. Ask the bosses. Most of them will tell you that they want you to push back. They want you to let them know when your plate is full, your calendar packed, so that they can work with you to identify what to take off to make room for this new priority. They will tell you that in virtually all cases and if you work for someone who doesn’t, it is an immediate red flag on the field, a signal to start prepping your resume. No excuses. All the good ones want you to raise a hand when the work gets overwhelming.

Yet you don’t. Put a pin in that. We can come back to it in some other note.

Leaders, let’s just posit that the people you lead are inherently not comfortable with saying no. No matter how many times and in how many ways you tell them that it’s okay, something is baked into the mix which makes it difficult to let you know you’re making everything harder. I have yet to work with a team anywhere with even the most talented leader where once you leave the room, your people don’t agree almost universally that they don’t know how to tell you no.

My own 2Up is a minor miracle of charm, charisma, and positive energy, and yet I’d still feel safe saying that most of her people from top to bottom can’t say no. It’s almost worse when we have a great leader. The good ones buy utterly into modern management theories on engagement, people focus, purpose, authenticity, and building trust. We are inspired to work for this new generation of sincere, transparent thoughtful people who we believe in and who share our desire to get things done. And so now instead of being unable to say no because they are complete assholes, we can’t say no because we don’t want to disappoint, we trust they wouldn’t ask unless it really needed to happen, we can’t let them down.

If there is virtually unanimous consensus that we all need to attain ninja mastery of the respectful no AND even when we do it, there is an emotional cost each and every time to tell a leader no, we as leaders need to ask the question: Am I part of the problem? Am I asking when I shouldn’t? Am I failing to filter my thoughts sufficiently and pulling and tugging other people out of their own flow states for my own selfish reasons? Just because you can pop over and have a chat with one of your reports, should you? If your leader asked you to do a thing and you’ve found it hard to say no, isn’t passing that work on to your own people a second failure of character and responsibility? Because letting it flow through you and down is clearly the path of least resistance, but it may not be in the best interest of you, your people, or even the organisation.

Saying no to something is actually much more powerful than saying yes.” ~ Tom Hanks