When & How to Say ‘No’ in The Workplace


(Pic Courtesy of http://www.pinterest.com)

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



Ways to Work Smarter

hard work(Pic courtesy of http://www.linkedin.com)

There was a time when buried nose deep in a stacked pile of papers classified you as a ‘hard worker’.  Include an irritable attitude and an occasional under-your-breath mumble and you might have been up for a promotion.  That, we have now discovered, is as unhealthy for you as starting each day with pizza. While it is true that hard work never killed anybody, working smart gives you more of your life back and decreases work stress. 

Managers must understand that smart work does not replace hard work – they go together.  Let us not succumb to the mistaken belief that employees should be remunerated on hours worked: Pay for Productivity and Productivity Pays. Overworking an employee leads to anxiety and burnout and this will hurt the business in the long run.  Yes, the job must get done but there are many ways to get it done and why shouldn’t you opt for the smarter way?

Release some of your work pressure with these seven tips:

  1. Make use of electronic reminders for appointments, birthdays, and to do lists instead of writing it down.
  2. Learn to delegate.  Seems simple enough but people struggle with delegation – some believe that you are giving away your power or worse still, ‘if you want something done right, do it yourself.’  Steer away from this antiquated thought.  The reality is that we cannot do everything ourselves and there are others that can perform certain tasks better than you can.  Focus your energy on the tasks that you can do well.
  3. Need to prepare for a presentation, study product upgrades or learn industry related information? The trick to committing anything to memory is repetition, repetition, repetition!  Read your material out loud, record it on your smartphone and listen to it on the way to work or play it to yourself whenever you have a moment.  Be sure to add inflections, emphasize key words and even use a strange accent.  Anything to make it interesting and entertaining and easier to remember.  If it is a presentation you are rehearsing, listening to a recording of yourself (as torturous as that may be) is a great way to correct and improve your speaking skills.
  4. If information does not need to have a written trail, rather make a phone call. In this digital age, there is a tendency to lose the personal touch and if all your communication in a day is written, you would be working a lot harder than you need to.
  5. Combine brainstorming sessions with breakfast or a round of golf with a business meeting. It builds great relationships and kills 2 birds!
  6. Ask for help. If you cannot find the answers after a fair amount of time spent on it, get help.  Suffering in silence will lead to frustration and eventually disillusionment and detachment.
  7. Take a look at my previous article on time management for more suggestions.

I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas to becoming a smarter worker, please take a moment to comment.

Manage Your Time and Increase Productivity



Time control is directly related to goal setting.  I love Lewis Carroll’s quote, ‘If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.’  It is essential to identify what you wish to achieve (both professionally and personally) and document it.  Once this is established, you will subconsciously utilise your time towards achieving it.  Time wasters typically do not have clear and structured goals.

Now that the stage is set, use the following pointers to knuckle down on managing your daily clock.

  • Be conscious of your time. Even the smartest among us are guilty of occasionally saying ‘I don’t know where the time went.’ If you are conscious of the degree of time spent on each activity, you will always know where the time went.
  • Plan your day the evening before so you begin the day with a purpose. You are more likely to sleep in late, have an extra cup of coffee or be idle if you do not wake up with a determination to achieve the measurable goals already set out for the day.  During your evening ritual, ask yourself what you have accomplished today and how has it moved you closer to your goals before preparing for the next day.  Questioning yourself forces you to be accountable for your actions.
  • De-clutter your workspace.  A cluttered desk produces a cluttered, slow thinking mind which extends the time spent on each task.
  • Making a ‘To Do’ list is a routine part of one’s day, but how many of us are making a ‘Don’t Do’ list? It is often the little things that steal time.  What fruitless activities are the thief of your time?  Is it social networking, crushing candy, watching amusing video clips online? Note your thieves down and chances are probable that you will fall less victim to these weaknesses.
  • Allocate a strict time limit to unimportant tasks.
  • Don’t fool yourself with activities that are work related but not productive, like constantly checking if an email was answered or spending an hour exploring different colour combinations for a spreadsheet. Become results oriented.
  • Take regular breaks. Did you ever work tirelessly on a project without success and the minute you gave up and removed yourself from the situation, swiftly came up with a solution?  Overworking exhausts the brain and it will essentially take longer to complete a task. Ensure that your breaks are relaxing and rejuvenating.  Switching from a work task to a social networking site does not constitute a break.  Do some of your best ideas originate in the bath or shower?  Research has not been conclusive as to what motivates ‘brilliant shower brain’ however one of the assumptions is that water relaxes a person.   Now I do not suggest taking regular baths during the course of your day but opt for calming ‘no screen’ breaks like taking a walk, having a snack (away from your work space), taking deep breaths, catching up with a friend or getting a dose of sunlight.  Restrict it to 10 minutes every 2 hours.
  • Do not multitask. Dividing your energy in the workplace is a recipe for disaster.  Moreover, multitasking is a myth.  Recent neuroscience research has shown that the brain cannot perform several tasks simultaneously.  The truth is that the brain constantly shifts to and from each task.  The time that it takes for the brain to transition to the new task adds unnecessary minutes, depletes energy and results in more errors being made.  So while you may think you are ticking several items off your ‘to do list’, it is proved to be quicker to concentrate on one thing at a time.  Returning to correct mistakes will cost you even further.

Having just returned from a funeral service, I am reminded of the most valuable commodity that we have.  Our lives are made up of years.  Dissected still, a year comprises seconds.  Use those seconds wisely and have the time of your life!