Should Everyone be Treated Equally or Fairly?



If a store has a policy of ‘no returns,’ treating everyone equally will suggest that they will be unwavering on that rule.  But what if you regularly shop at this store and have shown continued support over the years?  You’d probably think that it’s not fair.  In Banking, customers with larger balances deserve to enjoy lower fees.  Few might argue that everyone should pay equal fees – the wealthy paying lower fees does not seem fair.  If a senior employee gets the corner office it is fair, but if his queries gets priority over those who were first in line, is it still fair?  Here, you might vote for ‘equal treatment.’  To be equal or fair is one of the decisions in business that leaves you perplexed as to which side of the fence you find yourself.

In a free economy, fairness, ceteris paribus, motivates the behavior of  consumers and employees.  In Sales, you might win a holiday if you produce the highest figures.  That is pretty fair: the employee has pulled his weight and deserves an accolade.  As long as all players were given equal opportunities to prosper.  It is not fair and certainly not equal for any individual to benefit from an unfair advantage.

When business policies, new rules and decisions are not well received by employees, it is almost always due to one of these 2 principles.  Well…that and the sensitivity to change but that’s another blog post!

So it seems simple enough – make sure everyone gets a fair deal, right?

Not quite so easy….because the concept of fairness is subjective and everyone’s idea of fair differs significantly.  Try having a conversation about it – I’d say it falls in the same category as religion and politics.  Paradoxically we are all bias in our perception of what is fair; bias is to be unfair in its definition.  Perhaps we can deduce that fairness is what people feel they deserve – and everyone feels differently about what they deserve.  If you feel something is unfair, you are actually saying ‘I deserved better’.  This is why people with an undeserving personality are more complacent whereas arrogant types would readily put up a fight.  They feel they deserve a lot more than others.  Nobody ever agrees with an egotistical person’s notion of fair.

As a leader and a decision maker, it is undeniably a curve ball when dealing with people who believe they deserve more than others.  And it takes careful consideration because if you are perceived to be unfair or unequal, you will lose credibility and it will be an agonizing recovery, if ever.  It is your responsibility to have a full understanding of a situation before a decision is made and a moral obligation to consider all stakeholders.

I recently observed a dispute that was so poorly mediated, not equality nor was fairness taken into consideration.  The decision simply swayed towards the one who made the most noise.  Now both parties have lost respect for their superior – even the one who was rewarded.  His behavior was simply reinforced that manipulation techniques gets the desired outcome and consequently continues to exert control while the other feels unheard and betrayed.

Instead of defending a decision after you have offended half the office (this has become too prevalent), why not take a preemptive approach and explain the measurements you are considering before a decision is made?  Communicate that all stakeholders were considered and actually consider everyone involved.  Make sure that the decision is progressive from all viewpoints.  Predict a difficult person’s opinion and actions and plan your move ahead.

Among other things, it takes a high level of emotional intelligence to make the right decision that satisfies the triple bottom line.  And until you consider yourself a leader who possesses these soft skills, the most basic and safest benchmark to use is equality and fairness.


How to Become a LEADER in Direct Sales


Sales is for everyone!  As it turns out, several researchers have discredited the theory that selling is a natural born talent or that we should leave it the extroverts.  So if you are an introvert planning to enter this exciting field or, if like me, you hail from a sales environment, you would be seeking innovative ways to increase those figures!

Sales and Marketing is ever evolving.  Today, accelerating technology and globalization is increasing customer choices daily.  That said, there will always be a place for Direct Sales if you want to achieve complete buyer engagement.  But problems are many and against the backdrop of a crowded marketplace, you will need to bring your A game if you want to come out on top!

A study conducted by Harvard Business Review on what makes long term successful companies sustainable found that the number 1 common feature between them is this:  They sell value over price.  What value do you provide to your client?  Most sales people will answer with their product in mind – which is not a shocking revelation.  The activity of sales has always focused on the product.  But that was before the profession became saturated with competitors all wanting a piece of the pie.  Some selling replacement products, cheaper products, even your product.  Pause for a moment and consider what your personal value is.  What are you able to provide that others cannot?  Perhaps it is excellent after-sales service or superior expertise in your industry – unlock your individual value and break free from the rest of the pack!

I have never appealed to the phrase, ‘closing a deal’ due to the finality associated with it.  I’m certain it does not resonate with your clients as well – nobody wants to be known as a ‘closed sale!’  Sales people who use this phrase often treat the method as it suggests:  ending a process and moving on.  Starting today, concentrate on starting a relationship, rather than closing a deal.  This is the approach that builds customer loyalty.

Fine tune your sales process with these steps and become a LEADER in selling:

L – LISTEN.  The only talking you should do is introducing yourself and then turn your attention to the customer.  Maintain eye contact.  Write notes (if relevant to the type of sale).  After the client has spoken, summarize the content and repeat it to the client (in your own words) which means you were attentive during the conversation.

E – EMPATHISE.  Find common ground and establish a rapport.  Share your own experiences that are similar to those of the client.  Be open and let the customer feel comfortable to reciprocate. When someone shares a personal experience with you, it’s a positive sign that they trust you and people choose to do business with those they trust.

A – ASK QUESTIONS.  Probing provides you with more insight into the person you are dealing with and besides, not everyone shares information openly – some need a little nudge.   People make emotional and instinctive purchases.   If you ask questions about themselves, they will like you. And if they like you, they will buy!  Sincerity is foremost here.  ‘Counterfeit caring’ and indifference is the quickest way to lose a customer!

D – DEFINE CUSTOMER’S NEEDS.  Clients will rarely deliver this to you on a platter.  You will have to tap into the conversation and retrieve it.  This is why we got more acquainted in the preceding stages.  If he has a demanding job, his need is relaxation.  High standard of living requires extra savings for future.  A sporty lifestyle needs a corresponding vehicle.  You get the drift….

Notice that in LEAD stages, your product is yet to be introduced.  As you know, everything in life needs a strong foundation and the sales sequence is no different.  It is only at this point that your product should feature.

E – EQUATE PRODUCT WITH NEEDS.  In this planning stage, discover the connection between the client’s need and your product.  Produce as many connections as you can.  As an example, if you are selling outdoor equipment to a parent, you might equate outdoor activities with kid’s activities while keeping fit at the same time (if he had mentioned his lack of a healthy lifestyle in your conversation).

R – RECOMMENDATION.  The power of influence and persuasion is a skill few of us possess.  But in saying that, following steps 1-5 will rapidly turn you into a sales LEADER with very little persuading required.  A client will automatically see the value of your product in relation to their needs. All that’s needed now is to communicate your recommendation in a clear, concise, no-jargon and no-cliché manner.

Speak to their story, not yours.  People ultimately want to hear an answer to, ‘What’s in it for me?’  Sales people often make the mistake of selling features without benefits.  If you are in life insurance, don’t say we have a special feature embedded in the product that covers a parent for free.  It is only when you include the customer in the equation that he can envision himself in the story.  Here’s what you say instead: ‘If your parent should regrettably become ill, this product will take care of him/her financially.’  Now your customer is an active participant!  Enlighten them on how your product will fulfil their needs while enjoying the value that only you can provide. Turn a good deal into a great find!

It is worth noting that a total trust and passion for your product is a game changer.  Would you buy your product?  Would you sell it to your mother?  If the price were to increase tomorrow, would you still buy it?  If you are passionate about your product, you will never have to say it.  People will sense it in your voice.

Sales is at the heart of commerce.  It is the activity that funds all other business activities.  If sales determines your livelihood, I hope I have helped you cultivate a different lens through which to view the process.

Don’t just sell, become a LEADER!

Are You The Real Deal?


(pic compliments of

Here’s a question:  When asked at a job interview what your weaknesses are, how do you answer?  I’m a workaholic and I cannot seem to switch off?  I’m too trusting and people tend to take advantage of the fact?  ‘I’m a perfectionist and therefore unpopular amongst colleagues.’  It’s almost expected to hear a positive trait sneakily turned inside out to make you look good.  Would you dare say I was not really a team player but I am working on it as I acknowledge my shortfall and understand the benefits of working in a team?  Oh, the horror!  How about “I’m not a morning person but I have started a morning routine recently that has got me to enthusiastically jump out of bed with glee!”

We love dropping clichés when the situation calls for it:  ‘Be yourself’, ‘Keep it real’, ‘Love yourself or nobody else will,’ ‘Be the real deal’ but are you taking heed or mindlessly throwing up drivel?

It is certainly not a novel idea or some ‘secret’ to success.  Authenticity was studied from the time of the ancient Greeks.  It was Socrates who claimed that the way to happiness is to discover your ‘true self’.   Abraham Maslow, in his Hierarchy of Needs, puts forth the notion that one of the ways to reach self-actualisation (the highest point that a human being strives for) is self-acceptance.

Yet people still struggle with exposing their true essence.  Why?

Baggage.  And we all have it.  Everyone has an element of their personality or past experiences, even present situations that they are not particularly proud.  Your attitudes and perceptions today are the product of your past.  And thanks to that, our insecurities surge, resulting in the attempt to be someone else – someone that (you think) will be more accepted.  We humans are social beings.  The instinct to be socially accepted or conform is stronger than that of displaying our uniqueness to the world.  In fact, people are so afraid to display any human weakness that they would rather take on a different persona or even lie to avoid others discovering their true selves.

Yet one of the traits that stand out in highly successful leaders is the courage to be true to themselves.  Within the entertainment industry, a rags to riches story is respected and even attracts a larger following.  Leaders like President Nelson Mandela, Oprah Winfrey and President Barack Obama transformed their humble beginnings into the highest hierarchy of leadership with a worldwide following because they remained real throughout their remarkable growth.  The magic of self-acceptance is that people are more engaged with those who are real and vulnerable, because it is relatable.  Did you perhaps suffer with a learning disability as a child?  This attracts more admiration because people appreciate that you would have had to work harder than those who did not have those life experiences….and besides nobody likes a fake.

The first step to being true to yourself is knowing yourself.  As a child, you were the truest form of yourself.  If you didn’t like the taste of something, you spat it out.  You didn’t pretend to like it because another child enjoyed it.  The saddest part of growing up is losing that self-trust and as we transition from adolescence to adulthood, we learn how to dismiss our beliefs and values and become what parents, society, or the boss expects of us.  We fire ourselves from the job of living and hire a stranger.  If you will not hire yourself, how can you expect others to?  Here are 3 ways to help you regain your authenticity easily and naturally:

  1. Observe yourself in conversations or in meetings. Do you take on the personality of the group? Speak as they do?  Use slang and profanity if they are?  It is said in the study of body language that a degree of mimicking a person or group you are with actually makes you more likeable so it’s quite okay to adapt to your surroundings.  If it is a fun event and you are required to let your hair down a bit, you need not be a stick in the mud but if you find yourself becoming someone that is not instinctively you, it’s a fail!  Do not discount your innermost values because you are in a team or an environment that does not share your beliefs.
  2. Make a list of negative events in your past that you are not comfortable sharing with others.  Next to it, write down how those events have shaped you positively or what lessons were learned from it.  Were you bullied as a child and thus easily able to spot people who intimidate others?  Now you are changing the negative event into a positive one.  Read it again but this time from a different perspective.  You may feel a little differently about sharing your life lessons after this exercise.
  3. Think like a child again. Remember the elation and satisfaction you got from completing your first 100 piece puzzle? Well, we never out-grow this feeling of self-accomplishment.  This holiday, start a project that is yours alone – completing it will give you a sense of triumph.  Choose a personal stimulus:  a DIY project, build something from scratch, or start a vegetable garden.  In the process of a personal mission, you will re-discover yourself, be rid of an adult limiting view and gain insight into your strong and weak points.  Project managers will agree that if you want to really know the true nature of a person, work with them on a project.  The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard offers the theory that when a person despises themselves and attempts to be someone different, one abandons their true self and the result is despair.  He further suggests that if you do not know who your ‘self’ is, the result is an artificial happiness – or ‘ignorance is bliss’.  Therefore, when you start the journey to discovering yourself, a level of despair is expected but remain persistent on your project and on your journey.  As you become more self-aware, the despair decreases until true bliss is reached.

If you visit a company’s website, their unique values are usually proudly published in bold.  I have found many of these to be just sugary words which many do not even remember in their daily operations or cannot recall within 30 seconds.  Many companies are disappointingly losing their ability to be authentic.  But wait, companies are made up of people so shouldn’t the buck stop with us?  We need to restore ourselves so that we can become better employers, better leaders and stronger workforces.

I love diversity.  Nothing is as stimulating as learning from the unique experiences of others.  Your individual story is your gift to everyone who knows you.  This year I coached an employee who was gang raped and left for dead at the age of 10 and has never felt worthy of anything since.  After relating her story and tirelessly working on self-acceptance, she has gone from feeling completely worthless to delivering talks to abused women at her church.  I am so pleased to say that she is now the happiest she has ever been, about to become a mum and has become so sought after in business that a competitor has recently headhunted her.  A big loss indeed but I was delighted for her.  She has taught me more than I could have ever reciprocated and I am richer for it.

The lesson is simple:  Get real and the results will show!

Happy Holidays!

If You Don’t Take Care of Your Personal Brand, Everyone Else Will


The concept of personal branding is a hot topic at the moment.  It may be defined as the way in which you market yourself to the world.  We all possess a personal brand.  Whether you have knowingly developed it or not, everyone around you has an impression of who you are – their impression.  The challenge with managing your brand is that no matter how realistically you portray yourself to the world, you have no control over the perceptions of others.  Perceptions are potentially one of the most damaging effects on your personal brand.

You see, our brains are wired to take short cuts to reasoning.  More than reason, we are before anything else made up of emotions.  We habitually take the effortless route of creating a quick emotional picture that makes sense in our brain formed from previous patterns and experiences.   At other times, the information provided may be limited so we leap to a hasty conclusion about someone.  This irrational judgement is referred to as cognitive fallacies or biases.  Understanding cognitive biases can give you the upper hand to managing and protecting your brand.   There are scores of biases that can interfere with the accurate judgement of people and situations.  Let’s take a look at the more popular ones.

The Halo Effect:

The assumption that someone is competent due to being physically drawn to that person.  It is founded on attractive qualities identified at the first meeting.  Regardless of negative information that is received afterwards, the observer concludes that the individual possesses only good qualities.  So what does this mean to a personal brand developer?  Simplified, it means ‘first impressions are lasting.’  Most friends will tell you that their first impressions of you were different from the truth.  Fortunately, friends will have time to get to know the real you but what about potential clients and employers?  All you have is the first meeting and you must make it count!  Plan your introduction, dress for the occasion, maintain eye contact (every 5 seconds – be careful not to stare), be polished, take an interest in what people have to say and always smile.

Reciprocity Bias:

There is a human tendency to reciprocate actions that have been done to us – ‘return the favour’ so to speak.  In its reverse, if you harm someone the impulse would be to take revenge.  People in a Sales environment use this partiality to their advantage.  If you receive a free sample of a product in a store, you might be inclined to purchase the product regardless of its cost or if the item is even needed.  Similarly, If 2 car salesmen are selling the same type of vehicle, you will feel a sense of obligation to support the salesman who drove the vehicle out to you for a test drive or threw in a freebie with the deal.  Conversely, if the one did not return your call on time, you might support the other as an act of ‘payback’.  Noble deeds in business never go unnoticed.   Selfish deeds never go unnoticed.  People reciprocate behaviour so act wisely to build a likeable brand.


The expectation that an individual belonging to a certain group possesses certain characteristics without having any prior knowledge or information about the individual.  Negative stereotyping are derogatory due to discrimination against ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation, or physical attributes however positive stereotyping can be just as harmful on your brand.  Imagine someone stereotyping you as a math expert because of your ethnic background.  This irrational expectation will cause you to appear lesser than smart upon meeting while your actual proficiencies are disregarded.   The best way to counteract the effects of stereotyping is to adopt a zero-tolerance policy.  If you let a trivial remark slide, you are unconsciously giving the approval to take it to the next level.  One who engages in stereotyping will always think it is acceptable to joke or talk about a group that is not present.  Given half a chance, you can be assured that this individual is stereotyping you as well.  I say keep your friends close, and bigots closer.  Instead of a hostile response, educate the individual in a non-threatening manner.  Stereotyping is underpinned by ignorance.  Also, do not permit the prejudice of another group in your presence.  Often I come across people defending their own group but not others.  If you make a stand, it should be for all types of stereotyping.  Remember though, every rule has an exception – if a man and a woman are present and the man is requested to carry a heavy box, it is merely an innocent observation that the man is perhaps stronger in this case.  If the requestor consistently undermines women, it denotes stereotyping.

It is not surprising that the companies who have the most valued brands are also the most successful – personal branding is no different.   In career advancement, your brand is the key differentiator between you and a competing candidate who has the same experience and qualifications as you do.

Are the perceptions that others have of you aligned to who you really are?  Jeff Bezos, founder of sums it up best:  “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.”  Short of eavesdropping, you may want to consider actively managing the perceptions others have of you.

Stakeonomics: The Power of Stakeholders on your business


Who has the most power over your business?  In a quick exercise, place the following people/groups in order of revenue influence: Board of directors, largest client, production team, media, sales team, competitors.

Not an easy task, I suspect.   These groups are referred to as stakeholders:  people and organisations who directly or indirectly affect a company’s performance and who are in turn affected by a company’s activities.  As the business world moves from a shareholder-centric towards a stakeholder-centric style, we see the definition broaden.  The natural environment has, in recent years, been classified as a stakeholder as more and more organisations adopt environmentally friendly choices and increase social responsibility.

Are all stakeholders equally important or do they act as links in the economic chain?  It is a natural inclination to spend most of your resources on your largest client.  Imagine for a moment losing that client to a competitor, leaving behind a considerable loss and a string of likely unsatisfied smaller clients (who rapidly become more significant than they used to be).  Conversely, can you really afford to draw your attention away from such a large client?  Consider the power that human resources have during a labour strike, the impact of the media after a bad report on your company, or the sway of a supplier who has reached a monopolising status in the market.

As these examples reveal, stakeholders can be volatile, their power is ever-changing, and managing them is more challenging in practice.  We can also deduce that the behaviour of stakeholders at a given time is paramount to your success.

I introduce to you the concept of Stakeonomics: ‘The factors and effects of stakeholders’ behaviour on the performance of a business’.  Adopt these proactive practices to forecast stakeholder behavior so you don’t get caught off-guard:

Identify your Stakeholders

Create a list.  Include their needs (past & present) as well as previous incidents that resulted in a behaviour change.  Make a concerted effort to research their needs.  Are you in a position to meet those needs? Take into account that needs do not remain constant.  Review what events or movements triggered certain reactions in the past to mitigate future risks.  At what times are they most influential?  Are your interests sincerely aligned with theirs?

In the age of perfect knowledge, external stakeholders know what they want and from whom they want it.  Corny advertisements, crafty salesmen and the likes will no longer cut it.  The bottom line is this:  if a need is met, everyone wins.

Be Ahead of your Game.

  • Embrace technology.
  • Foster virtual relationships. Social media is a powerful tool today, people are quick to take to social sites to voice their opinions.  It can work in your favour or against you.  Positive comments about your business are always welcome but do not ignore comments and posts that are negative.  Responding to complaints shows transparency and consideration.
  • Invest in research and development.
  • Keep a close eye on competitors. What are their recent developments? Do you have a defense plan to win the market share?   It should be noted that while a defense plan is good, innovation is the best brand publicity.

Be Consistent in your Efforts:

Stakeholder mapping is a popular analysis conducted during startups or a project launch.  However, this is not adequate.  You can disengage stakeholders through your daily operations and not just during a significant event.  It should be a regular activity.

Ethics at All Costs:

Consumers are more loyal to ethics than to price or convenience.  Recent research from Mintel has shown that 56% of American consumers will not support a business that they believe to be unethical.  Furthermore, 35% of them will not buy these products or services even if no substitute exists! (  Trust is one of the main motivations for employee retention, content clients, strong supplier relationships and credibility with industry related professional bodies.  Plus ethical companies are environmentally and socially responsible and this attracts all stakeholders.

From small businesses to large enterprises, Stakeonomics is relevant.  Determining future needs and behaviour of your stakeholders is critical to shaping a sustainable operation or advancing to the next level.


Break Through That Glass Ceiling Like a Boss



(Pic courtesy of

Today is National Women’s Day in beautiful South Africa.  A day in which we commemorate more than 20 000 brave women who, in 1956, staged a march to protest against the apartheid government’s ‘pass laws’ which legislated that citizens defined as ‘black’ carry a type of a passport in order to control and further segregate the population.  This was especially phenomenal because women from all race groups united for a common cause in a country where people of different races were not even allowed to live side by side.

It is not remarkable that women have contributed to Science, Business, The Performing Arts and every other ambit of the world as we know it.  Men and women have the same brain.  What is remarkable is that women have made these contributions despite the history of not enjoying the same opportunities as their counterparts, excluded wholly or partly from political participation and being restricted or denied educational and social rights, amongst others.  To this day women are still demeaned in certain tribes, cultures and yes, even in the modern corporate world.

Off course, in the corporate world it is more subtle.  The skepticism that women are met with whenever they propose a new strategy or about to deliver a speech/presentation, nibbles away at one’s dignity until one day, somewhere between pouring coffee for your peers in the boardroom and being kindly asked to type a document because the secretary is off sick, a woman becomes bitter.  I have met a great deal of people who unapologetically believe that reporting to a female boss is a nightmare.  I happen to know some of these women and I am also aware that behind many a woman occupying a senior position, lies a fighter that made a conscious decision to push past the challenges: disregard for their abilities, being overlooked for promotions, bullied, not being taken seriously, phones and iPads appearing on laps as you are about to take the podium etc.  Does this explain the relentless attitudes of certain women in power?  Has their past experiences shaped the commanding manner in which some women conduct business?  Perhaps it does, the jury is still out on that…(I welcome your thoughts on the subject matter)

So how do you attempt to shatter that glass ceiling (the invisible barrier that prevents women from career advancement) without having to bring out the worst in you?  Here are 6 hints that I hope you will find useful.

A Firm Handshake: Yes, it is unisex.  A limp hand denotes self-doubt which means every word you say after the handshake does not sound as credible as you would have liked it to be.

Do not play the Gender Card Unreasonably:  While it is a fantastic achievement to have succeeded in construction or a traditionally male-dominated industry, it is not professional to throw it around.  You should be proud, but the achievement will sell itself.  Don’t be on the fence between a gender battle and a show-off as it might limit you from further growth.

Live the Values of Your Organisation:  Above all else, this is the core of the organisation and living it fully and sincerely will begin to see cracks in the ceiling.  Great leaders, male or female, embrace and stand for the values of their organisation.

Get A Mentor:  Mentors give you the extra nudge when you feel like you want to quit.  My mentors are beacons in my life.  I would not have accomplished nearly half of what I have without them.

Debunk Perceptions:  A feminist would proudly sing the praises of Mary Anderson, a woman from Alabama, who invented the vehicle’s windshield wiper blade in 1903 – in a predominantly man’s world.  A male chauvinist might claim that it still falls within the parameters of ‘washing/cleaning.’  Same fact, different perceptions.  In business, take the time to explain your view on a matter instead of immediately dismissing someone as prejudiced and walking away.  Perceptions are often built on ignorance.  Helping someone understand your reasoning debunks perceptions and mends the gender gap.  The take home point here is that if you do not confront each situation as it happens, you might be left with an ingrained bitterness that will be much harder to shake off at a later stage.

Dress for Success:  Bernie Mac in the movie ‘Heads of State’ puts it perfectly:  ‘You got to dress for the job you want, not the job you got.’ The story line is fittingly about an African American man trying to shatter a glass ceiling of his own as he runs for President of the US.  In a work environment, dress in a way that commands respect and makes you feel confident.  If you feel it on the inside, you will be it on the outside.  Invest in a power suit and wear it when you need uplifting.  In a separate article, I will go into more detail on corporate dressing.

I salute the female camaraderie and strength displayed in the march of 1956.  Their protest song was clear and powerful, “Wathint’ Abafazi Wathint’imbokodo” (Now you have touched the women, you have struck a rock).  I share this day with women all over the world.  You are rocks designed to withstand anything that life throws at you….and glass ceilings got nothing on rocks!

When & How to Say ‘No’ in The Workplace


(Pic Courtesy of

Over pleasing is as much an unfruitful attribute as idleness. Wherever you lie on the scale between these two extremes, you would have found yourself in the dreaded situation where you would need to cough up the word ‘no’.  In an office situation, the dilemma becomes a lot more complicated.

Are you committing a corporate crime by turning down a supervisor?  And what is the most non-offensive way to do it?  Why would someone rather work themselves to the bone than declining more work?  Some are afraid of disappointing colleagues or becoming unpopular.  Many say ‘yes’ to avoid potential conflict.  The key is not to perceive it as conflict.  It’s not necessary to send yourself on a guilt-trip either.  It is perfectly fine to turn someone down as long as it is gracious.  Take time, consider the request and how it would affect your current workload, and if you cannot commit to anything additional, inform the requestor that the proposed project would negatively impact the quality of your current work.

An accommodating way to say ‘no’ is to follow it with an alternative.  In the end, you have been asked because there is a problem that requires solving.  It does not revolve around your ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.  All that matters is a solution.  If you provide that, the ‘no’ will be long forgotten.

‘I am overloaded currently, however I can assist you with a system that will cut your resolution time by half’

‘I do not have time to assist but I can help you find someone who does.’

To a client:  ‘Unfortunately, I have prior commitments today however I can clear my diary tomorrow to suit you.’

So when is it wise to say yes? 

When you do have the time and the means to assist a colleague.  We do not exist in a vacuum – we need each other’s help and the favour will be returned when you need it someday….and that someday is always sooner than you expected.

When your manager asks you to complete an assignment that would inevitably be a huge notch in your belt.  Work additional hours to complete it if it will assist you to be recognised in your field or create growth opportunities.

When the job entails you learning something new or becoming proficient in another area/department.  Knowledge is always a good idea!

Never turn down a junior employee who asks you to be their mentor.  It is a huge compliment and the time you invest in developing an individual is invaluable.

Eradicate these reactions that people replace ‘no’ with:

The Over-justification: Don’t say no, then follow with a long account of why you cannot do it.  Unconsciously, you are inviting the person to find a loophole in your argument and if successful, you would have no option but to accept anyway.  Give a brief explanation that the time is not right or your present duties do not allow for it and spend more time finding a solution rather than relating excuses.

Beater-about-the-bush:  Say ‘no’ firmly and assertively.  ‘Naaah, I doubt it, I don’t think it’s possible, maybe, that is going to be difficult’ are phrases that give hope.  This type will eventually lead to the push-over status.

The Push-Over:  Recognise those who use flattery, over persistency, excessive smiley faces etc. to attempt to convert you. If you are currently saying ‘yes’ to everything, prepare to be over-worked, abused and irreplaceable.  Sadly, irreplaceable means never progressing in your career.  The ‘yes’ employee is easily spotted from a mile away and these people, as obliging as they are, will be mistreated.

The Cold Shoulder:  It will not go away if you ignore it.  A persistent person will just keep returning and others will be offended that you did not afford them the respect of giving them an answer.  Send an email if you are uncomfortable with the art of declining however do learn how to face a conflicting situation head on for future.  Depending on the request, it is advisable to decline in person.

The Offensive Colleague:  Always be polite about it.  ‘Unfortunately I cannot assist at this time,’ is a lot less offensive than ‘Forget it! NO!  Absolutely Not!’ Don’t transform aggression into sarcasm either.  Sarcasm only sounds witty to the sender, never the receiver.  Non-verbal communication is as significant as your words.  Be careful of eye-rolling, shaking your head and other gestures that suggest arrogance.

How to handle Money Loaners:

In and out of the office, this is arguably the worst request of all.  The lending and borrowing of money amongst colleagues should be avoided at all costs.  Your work (and other) relationships should be treated like fine china.  It can easily be permanently damaged due to a conflict over money.  This is an easy ‘no’.  ‘I value our relationship too much to lend you money.’ Or ‘As a rule, I do not lend or borrow money’.  If someone is in dire straits, assist them to loan money from a financial credit provider or an advance on salary.  As a manager or supervisor, recommend extra overtime to enable your employee to earn more or offer advice if the person has a history of poor money management.  If a salary advance is granted, it should be stated that this will not be commonplace in future to discourage comebacks.

Setting boundaries is a reflection of strength and self-respect and the first step is saying ‘no’ and prioritising.  Ensuring you do not have too much on your plate starts with assessing the size of your plate. After that, ‘no’ will sound a lot sweeter!

“It’s only by saying ‘no’ that you can concentrate on the things that are really important.” Steve Jobs