In the Broadway musical Oklahoma, a character named Ado Annie sang, "I'm just a girl who can't say no, I'm in a terrible fix." How right she was. The word no is the most powerful word you can use, and not being able to say no can bring disaster.
Bosses who can't say no will create confusion. If you tell everyone they can take next Friday off, you'll have an empty office.
The employee who can't say no loses out. You will take on more tasks than you can handle. Even worse, your supervisor may spot you as an individual who lacks self-respect and initiative, and will pass you over at promotion time.
In the family, if you say yes to a beach vacation--when you silently prefer the mountains--your disappointment can grow into resentment, spoiling the family outing.
Saying yes all the time threatens friendships. "Want to play bridge?" a neighbor asks. If you agree, yet despise playing cards, you will become a poor guest.
Consumers must say no. It's fine to tell the appliance company that no, you can't wait at home four hours for a service call. Insist on knowing the specific time the repairman will arrive.
We could list many more examples. Bank officials can't say yes to everyone who applies for a loan. Coaches can't let everyone play, no matter how much the wannabe athletes plead. If you own a business, you cannot let all of your delinquent accounts enjoy an additional ninety days to pay.
Maybe you wonder how you can say no without jeopardizing relationships. Use these tips:
- Assure the person that you respect his or her request, and that your decline isn't personal. "Sounds like a very good project, Joe, yet my packed schedule won't allow me to participate."
- Explain why your refusal benefits both of you. Declining membership on a committee, say: "I'm going to be traveling extensively. If I accepted, I couldn't attend meetings or do volunteer work. You'll benefit more by getting someone who will be available."
- Invite the other person to help you make the decision. Let's say your boss gives you a big assignment. Respond with: "Here's a list of what you have me working on already. If I take this new assignment, I'll have to drop something. Please tell me which projects deserve top priority."
- If you can't do everything someone wants, offer some service: "No, I can't be responsible for four Rotary Club programs in February, but I can be in charge of one if that will help."
Whatever your strategy, don't suffer from Ado Annie's "terrible fix." Protect your schedule, your life balance, your integrity, and your relationships by declining when you need to. Isn't it amazing how much a two-letter word can improve our lives?
Bill Lampton, Ph.D., Communication Consultant and Speech Coach, "Helping You Finish in First Place." Visit his Web site, Championship Communication. Call Dr. Lampton: 678-316-4300