“No” could be one the most important skills you need at work right now.
The majority of people I’ve spoken to recently are at some extreme level of busy. Maybe so busy that the word ‘busy’ doesn’t cut it anymore. ‘Super Busy’ has become the next stage of acceptance and possibly the newest supervillian that needs killing off.
What this busyness and yes culture says to me is that a lot of us are finding it difficult to say “no” at the moment. We’ve got accustomed to playing catch up and wrestling with a million and one things to do. It’s quickly becoming normal to be overwhelmed with stuff to do but when you stop and think about it, that’s not normal.
So why do we find using this tiny two letter word such a difficult skill to perfect?
“Saying no stirs up intensely negative emotions – embarrassment and guilt.” says Vanessa Bohns professor of organizational behavior at Cornell University.
In her recent study, a group of people were each loaned a book from the library and then instructed to deface it. Half of the subjects recorded that it felt wrong to do, but they did it anyway. It was later discovered that those who chose to deface the book found it so difficult to reject the person who had asked.
History shows that humans found considerable benefits being in groups, notably hunting and staying alive. Being in a group increased our chances of survival with the ability to share resources so we learned to adopt a sense that being agreeable to the group dynamic was good for us. Acceptance is seen as a survival mechanism and therefore saying no makes us think we’ll be perceived negatively, and therefore, excluded.
The people pleaser within us likes to create and sustain connections with others and anything that threatens to break that bond will cause us to worry. Saying no to joining a meeting, not helping someone when they have asked for it, or turning down that invitation creates a sense of panic so, in the end, we take the easy way out, the path of least resistance, and then before we know it, we’ve become buried under a huge pile of yes.
There’s another thing to consider here also, our own desire to be seen to always be doing stuff. Busyness is becoming an addictive culture and there is still a large part of us that wants to be seen as in demand or needed which raises our perceived level of importance. We’re also on the lookout for more so we can stay bang up to date with everything that is happening to everyone, everywhere. God forbid we have spaces in our calendar!
The fear of missing out is such a pull that we can agree to all sorts of things. There is a lot of social pressure connected with FOMO as well as the perceived sense of duty and obligation to do things like answer emails at ridiculous times. Our desire to get ahead mixed with social media addiction has ended up growing the emotionally intelligent antidote, The Joy Of Missing Out. A concept originally related to deter the scrolling on our phones and the need to fit in.
Being ok with not knowing everything, being everywhere or seeing everyone grants you the ability to be more present and understanding of your own capacity. JOMO helps to phase out the ‘shoulds’ and become more intentional with our time. It allows us to focus where we are needed on the most important things and as a bi-product, the less time spent being anxious or competitive gives us back our energy.
Some bosses don’t really know the intricacies of the tasks that are going on within their team. It’s not their job to know all the ins and outs but it is their job to move obstacles out of the way so you can be successful. You do however need to tell them when you’ve hit your limit.
If you get another request from your boss to do something and you are already at capacity, ask them what the priority is now. If you take on this new thing, maybe one of the older things you’re working on is not as important anymore?
Have people become reliant on you without even knowing it? Are they calling you before trying to figure things out for themselves? Are you rescuing others because you feel you need to?
Giving advice and getting hooked on always being the one to rescue can be an occupational hazard. Helping behaviors can trigger dopamine, serotonin, and oxycontin, a neurochemical cocktail that makes us feel good. Whilst seeing people flourish and feeling satisfied that we have provided advice is our goal, it’s only momentarily gratifying.
The effects of you always helping and yesing everywhere can cause severe long term damage to others and we may not even see it.
One person’s inability to say “no” can bring the whole team or organisation crashing down.
Sometimes we just can’t help but want to fix everything for people but quickly tasks become a burden and so do other people. You’re over promising and under delivering and the relationships you worked so hard to build are becoming strained.
If the relationship is strong, the person receiving the no will understand, be empathetic to your mounting commitments and help you by giving you the space you need. We believe others will judge us more harshly than they actually do. The majority of people are so caught up in their own world, with their own mounting list of things, that they would have probably forgotten about your answer and moved on to something else.
So my challenge for you now is to have courage, to be brave and negotiate just one thing this week. Getting better at saying “no” will not just be good for you, it will be good for your relationships and it will be good for business.
About the Author: Chris Lovett is an author, speaker, simplicity coach, and minimalist storyteller. His platform Minimalings supports individuals, families teams, and organizations adopt a ‘Less is Progress’ approach.