Saying “no” has a mixed record in our culture, especially at work. Certainly, a lot of experts assert that saying no is critical to advancing your career, but research has shown people who actually say “no” to work requests (especially women) are seen as not being team players.
So the key, it appears, is learning how to say no with finesse. All three of this month’s links are about how to beg off professional opportunities or assignments that aren’t right for you. Read on, and discover how to give a negative response to someone that will prompt a positive outcome for everyone.
Rich Bellis, associate editor of Fast Company’s leadership section, neatly lays out the basics of constructive nay-saying in this article. He provides advice on how to execute three ways in which you can say no: A hard no (in which you’re flat-out not interested), a soft no (for circumstances in which you aren’t sure or need more information) and the “ask me later” (for things that are not a good match for you now, but might be later).
What makes this article a good one is that he forces readers to honestly evaluate the offer/request against their needs, interests, and current time commitments. While a hard no might sound unkind in theory, he argues, it can actually be a positive development for the person making the request:
“Bowing out early and clearly does the offerer a favor. By making it apparent that you aren’t interested (instead of giving a wishy washy insincere ‘maybe’), the person asking for your participation is free to go elsewhere with their offer and find someone more likely to accept it. Your rejection might even help them refocus their search.”
Also helpful in this article are the examples of HOW to say no in each case.
You have to hand it to Derek Handley, an entrepreneur and venture capitalist. A lot of people talk about getting to Inbox Zero (no unread emails in one’s account), but after realizing that excessive email and web usage was providing “negative side affects in my world and well being,” he crafted a plan to reduce his dependence on digital communication.
He started by turning off all alerts on his mobile devices and frequently used applications. “Anything that beeped, flashed or popped on a screen to tell me about something was banished,” he said. “…Whatever it is or was, it is never that important or urgent and it’s ruining our collective sanity.”
Next, Handley carved out three hours on Friday mornings to do analog thinking - as he describes it, “just a pen, a notebook and my self in deep thought.” He calls this his “white space” time and uses it to plan, create and imagine the next step for his business ventures. He also checks in with himself about his reasoning for his actions and plans, so that he is sure that he is really honoring who he is.
Then came experiments with stripped-down mobile phones that made him accessible without requiring him to carry a smartphone’s computer capabilities in his pocket. Finally, he is working on reducing his use of email to the point that he spends one day a week batch processing the most important emails. He says that the primary reason workplace email has careened out of control is not the technology itself, but how it is used:
“Email is broken. We have known this for many years and multiple attempts have tried to reinvent it … But really it’s all the same-thing-different-story and none of it works: it’s not the app — its the human beings using it that’s the problem. Email is good for maybe three things: 1) coordinating meetings with multiple people, and 2) sending very short notes, with attachments or links to attachments, 3) sending a newsletter. Everything else is noise and a misuse of the medium.”
Handley’s honesty is refreshing, and his description of how he is attempting to move on to a new way of using digital communication will likely prove useful, especially as the new generation of employees (who don’t use email as their primary mode of communication) enter the workplace and refuse to take up the email addiction.
What better way is there to increase one’s productivity (surely a rational activity at work if there every was one) than to talk to the author who is the “king of irrational behavior”? Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist from Duke University, has written three books about how irrational behavior impacts the economy. He also participated in the creation of a smart-calendar app, Timeful, which was acquired by Google shortly after its launch in 2014.
As a result of his experiences with launching Timeful, he shared with Observer reporter Eric Barker his top tips for better time management.
The theme that runs through all six of Ariely’s tips is that distraction is everyone’s enemy, and key to vanquishing distractions is to take control of one’s working environment. As he puts it,
“One of the big lessons from social science in the last 40 years is that environment matters. If you go to a buffet and the buffet is organized in one way, you will eat one thing. If it’s organized in a different way, you’ll eat different things. We think that we make decisions on our own but the environment influences us to a great degree. Because of that we need to think about how to change our environment.”
This post is a great reminder to be proactive in how we use our time, and provides ample evidence that saying no to the tasks and opportunities that are wrong for us makes it possible for us to say yes to that which is right for us.
~ Liz Massey, Managing Editor, ASU Alumni Association