The Art of Saying NO

The Art of Saying NOBy: Allison McCarthy, MBA | amccarthy@barlowmccarthy.com

Learning to say “no” effectively is one of the hardest skills to learn.  For “can do” people like those of us in physician recruitment and relations roles, it can be particularly challenging.  We know that additional assignments will distract from current obligations – undermining our ability to be successful.  But we also don’t want to appear “difficult to work with.”

So how do we turn down a request without being perceived as not a team player?

Here are a few pointers from others who have mastered this skill.

Take a Pause

I’ve started to practice this approach a bit more.  And, I have to say it does help to give some time to think things through and come up with alternatives that demonstrate support but seem to fit better into my current agenda.  It’s more of a positive “here’s what I can do” response.

When I was an in-house recruiter, and it was my boss making the request, I would share what was already on my plate and ask if this new request was a higher priority than what I was already addressing.  Together we would talk through the scale and scope of the workload – sometimes leading to his scaling back either the new or another assignment.  Those conversations got us on the same page.

Show Concern

Today, my team members will express concern about their ability to do their best work if they take on an additional assignment. They don’t want to disappoint me or the client. Admittedly, I will push back. But, those who manage themselves (and me) will stay firm and candidly express why they need to say no.

When turning someone down, acknowledge the challenge you’re putting in front of them. For example, “I realize that by saying no, this project is back in your court without a solution.” Then if there is a way you can help with some smaller piece offer it up as a demonstration of support.

Monitor the Boredom Syndrome

Then there are those of us who say “yes” to gain new experiences and assume more responsibility for career progression. Although, I wonder if it’s really just a way to avoid the most mundane parts of our work (like calling to generate new leads or soliciting appointments with doctors that we don’t know).  While professional growth is important, it can’t be at the expense of good performance.  In this case, we have to use our self discipline and teach ourselves to say “no” to our “can do” side.

So the next time you are tempted to say “yes” to that new assignment, remember to pause, manage your enthusiasm and consider the impact of adding this to your current responsibilities. If the time is not right, offer an alternative or say “no” with clarity and conviction. While not easy, it is the best thing you can do for yourself and the organization.

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