How To Reduce Stress By Saying No At Work

Are You The Yes Person?

You are reading this because you have a hard time saying no at work, right?

You are kind and generous and want to help others with their problems.

As a result you are stacked out with work, stressed and working extra hours.

You don’t know how to change the tide.
Everyone knows you as the person that says ‘Yes.’

Do you want to feel less stressed? Work fewer hours (hell, even go home on time for once)? Do you want to push back against the raging tide?

I want to show you how you can do it.

Motivational Drivers

Why do we feel compelled to say yes, even if we know it could cause problems professionally?
Regardless of your personality we say yes for many reasons:

* We want to be a team player.
* We don’t want to disappoint our boss.
* We want to please and this is magnified if you are new to the team.
* You want to impress and show people your talent.
* You want to foster positive relationships.

These are all strong motivational drivers.

It is no wonder we doubt our ability to handle one more task, yet we agree to take it on.

We do so without fully thinking through the impact.
When I started leading teams a lot of extra work was delegated my way.
In many ways I took it as a compliment.

Testing and stretching my ability was a good thing.
I said yes to everything and at the time this seemed like the right thing to do.

Once the excitement had worn off I could see that I was getting tasks that were a pain to deal with.

Much easier for the new guy to do it, right?

‘It’s good for your development!’ they would all chorus.

Yes, maybe, but I wish I had been brave enough to say no a few times.
Although the opportunity to learn was positive I found the extra activity took me away from my team.
I was spending less and less time with them and this harmed their morale. As a result their performance was also affected.

I remember sitting down with them explaining what I was working on. They did not like the answer but at least they appreciated the context I was providing. Teams want their leaders to be visible. When this does not happen it causes unrest.

Just Say No On Tree

I did not realise you could say no at work. I did not realise you could balance your workload against the needs of the team. I did not think about the longer term and the impact my choices might have.

I have worked with colleagues who come in early, work through lunch and do extra after their finish time. I have also worked with colleagues who work their shift, find downtime to enjoy lunch and still deliver in their job.

There is always a place for this. I want to make one thing clear. This article is not about working to rule.

There will be times when you have to pull some longer days.
Doing this on a regular basis is damaging to your well-being and the quality of your work.

I wondered what was different about the group of people who were able to get the job done and enjoy some down time. On the whole they worked regular hours and enjoyed lunch. It turns out they were using the tools outlined in this article.

Creating a strong positive perception to those around you is important. Taking on every task that comes your way, without asking some important questions, is a sure way to feel overwhelmed and unhappy.

If you have feelings of internal stress and conflict it is time to make changes. It is time to make a change and resist the chorus of ‘It will be good for your development.’

Positive Perception

If you are saying yes to everything then at some point several things will happen.

* Your stress levels will increase
* You will start to feel overwhelmed
* You become less effective
* You become less productive.
* You go from someone who was reliable but now can’t deliver.

Saying no at work is not about being awkward or combative.
It is about making sure you can give your best to the team and the people around you.
If you are not following a set of basic rules you will always struggle to say no to people at work.

Answer the following questions:

Do you have a deep pride in the work you produce?
How does it feel when you produce something sub standard or it has been rushed?

If the person asking you for help is upset by your answer this is understandable.
It won’t last and their reaction is a result of the pressure they are feeling.

Imagine the feeling if you said yes and produced something that was average or at worse, poor?

Coffee Says No

I love coffee and once I realised there was life beyond the big chain of coffee shops I found Laynes Espresso. The service is great and their chocolate salted caramel brownies are immense.
Due to their popularity you sometimes have to queue and wait for delicious coffee.

They love their product and if you ask for something a bit different they will try to accommodate.

I was stood in the queue and had placed my order. A guy behind me asked for a regular coffee and he wanted four shots of Espresso.

I wondered what happened to him that meant he needed four shots of coffee to get his morning started.

The person taking the order politely declined, explaining that doing so would compromise the taste of the coffee. They offered to make two separate coffees for him to take away.

The customer was irritated.
He replied he was not bothered about the impact to the taste and they should not be either.

The answer from behind the counter was the same.
They refused to compromise the integrity of the coffee.
They made this choice when the shop was packed and people were waiting impatiently for their hit of caffeine.

I loved the way they handled the issue. They said no based on what was important to them and the goal they have – to serve delicious coffee in every cup.

Espresso in a cup

If you say yes to every request at work you have to worry about what is not happening and not getting done.

Saying yes to everything means you will compromise your integrity at some point. There is no such thing as a small breach of integrity, if it happens then it happens.

Everyone a breaking point and as you increase your ‘to do’ list things start to slip. As a result you you will experience the following:

* You lose traction on your personal goals.
* You lose out in time with family, friends and hobbies.
* Your develop a reputation of not delivering.
* The feeling of anger and frustration turns into anxiety and your health is affected.

If the guys at Laynes can say no at work, then you can do it as well.

How Do I Start?

OK, so let’s get into the detail.

How are you going to move from feeling stretched to a place where no becomes part of your monthly vocabulary?

The strategies below are all actionable. You can actually start using them straight away. Doing so means you will start to take control back.

Think First

I want you to become and expert at saying no.

It does not mean saying no at work becomes the default for every conversation.

Doing so tips the balance too far in the other direction.

If someone asks you to take on a project or task the first question you should ask yourself is:

‘Does it have to be a no?’

If you are unsure other questions to be explored are:

* How much support can I give?
* Can I take the task on and give it 100%?
* If no, could I offer a supporting role?

Hi! I’m Your Schedule!

The only way you will be able to answer is by knowing your schedule.

To do this successfully you need to know your schedule intimately.

Do you know what you will doing be at 2pm tomorrow?
If you can’t tell me this you don’t know your schedule well enough.

I’m not expecting you to memorise every hour.
You should be able to access your schedule within a couple of minutes.
Ideally you would have a printed copy or an electronic copy you can look at immediately.

If you are not scheduling your week well enough it means you don’t know where the gaps are.
If you don’t know where the gaps are you have no idea if your answer should be a yes or a no.
Imagine saying yes to a significant chunk of work and then realising you are back to back for the next seven days.

Apple Desk and calendar

Everyone has their own way of scheduling work.
The most effective way for me was scheduling everything into 30 minute blocks.

I add everything and I mean everything. You can build something easy and simple in Excel. Colour coding each activity is also a great way of visually knowing what you are doing.

I update the table every Friday for the following week. Most ad-hoc work would come in my morning meeting. Knowing my schedule means I can take extra stuff on, delegate what needs to be or push back and say no if I have no capacity.

You also want to make sure there is enough flex in the plan to take on extra or unexpected tasks.
The aim is to have at least five hours a week free. It may sound a lot but I urge you to build it in.
It provides protection on your day to day activity.

If you are at 100% saturation with no free hours you might be saying yes to too many things.

Important vs Urgent

Other questions to consider:

* How long will the task take – can it completed in an hour or will it be a long term project?
* Is the task important or urgent?

It is rare for tasks to be both urgent and important – understanding the difference between the two is vital.
The person asking for help will always want the work to completed quickly.

If you know your schedule you can offer a time frame to help them if you are saying yes.
If you say yes without checking and rush you are likely to make mistakes.

The person asking for your help (and this includes you boss) does not want you to do a bad job.
It is not in their interest, so saying no and providing context (see below) will help them.

Polite Firm and Contextual

OK, good. You have asked the right questions and you know your schedule.

You have zero time.

You can’t take the task on and you are going to have to say no.

Don’t panic at this point.

Everything is going to be OK. I have used these techniques in the past and they work, trust me.

The first thing you are going to do is focus on your tone.
It needs to be polite but firm.
If there is an element of doubt in how you sound this leaves the door open.
It allows the person asking for help to deal with your objection or apply the pressure.

If you don’t have your schedule to hand then ask them to e-mail the details through. You can also ask them to come and see you later once you have checked.

The next part is providing context.
Simply saying no at work is not going to cut it. Their follow up question will be ‘why’?
So, in the classic tradition of objection handling training, raise the objection first.

It might go something like this:

‘I would love to help but my schedule is full this week. I would not want to squeeze it in and deliver something that was rushed. I’ll be updating my schedule on Friday and I can see what next week looks like. How does this sound?’

Polite but firm.

You have said no without actually using the word.

Chain Link Fence

You have also offered them the opportunity to follow up if they want to, once you have looked at next week.

Asking ‘how does this sound’ will also do one of two things. They will either remove you from their list of people who could help or they will follow up and check how next week looks.

Either is fine as you have protected your schedule and the quality of your work (remember the guys at Laynes).

Play around with the wording to suit. There are many variations depending on the situation.

It is important to remember to keep the tone polite and firm and to give context if your answer is going to be no.

You may find that you can’t commit to the task in full but you could give some support.
Offer to help with proofreading documents, attend meetings to give your viewpoint or to be a sounding board for ideas.

Each scenario will be different so use your judgement based on your schedule and what you know you can commit to.

No Does Not Mean Forever

You have said no. You have disappointed them. You don’t like to let people down.
They are not happy you have turned them down.

Anticipate their response.

They may not like your answer but at least they will understand it.
They will have their own work pressures and worries.
Their reaction is unlikely to be a personal response about you.

If you meet someone who continues to apply the pressure then stay on message.
An effective phrase to use is ‘It is a no right now but it may not be a no forever.’
You can then bring it back to the idea of checking your schedule and seeing what might work.

This is about protecting your time. You make sure you can deliver your best, both to your team, your peers and your customers.

Naturally it will feel uncomfortable when you start to change the conversation.

Practice in a setting you are comfortable with.

Imagine someone in your team wants to talk about the outcome of a project or a particular result.
They are agitated and they want your attention now.

This is a perfect time to go through the questions about your schedule.
It is likely to be a quick conversation so if it is not a conversation for now when could you book it in?

Be brave, use the suggested wording, keep the tone firm but polite and you will be surprised by how many people react positively to it.

What Is Your One Thing?

When we review our last month/quarter/year it is often blighted with the results we did not achieve.
We fall short and this becomes a bigger issue than the success and fun we have had along the way.

A large part of this is down to losing our way.
We lose sight of the goals we have set and the behaviour that helps to support the achievement of the goals.

How many times have you got involved in work because you enjoy doing it, rather than focusing on activity that adds value?

My personal answer to the above question is this: LOTS!
To gain balance in our crazy work universe take a moment to consider this next question:

What is the one thing you need to action to make your team a success?

Number One Road Sign

In work there are hundreds of different issues all vying for your attention.

You also have a long to do list and it appears to be getting longer by the hour.

If you were to list all the different things you do, what one thing makes the biggest difference to the bottom line? For example you believe coaching your team is ‘the one thing.’

If you coach consistently and to your best standard the result your team will soar and the work they produce will be astounding.

If anything gets in the way of coaching the team suffers as do the results.

Saying yes to everything is guaranteed to create this reality.

The one thing should be the most important piece of work you do.
It should be the piece of work you spend the most amount of time on – sometimes causing an imbalance to your other activities.

You have to protect the one thing and learning to say no at work is vital in doing this.

What Have We Learnt?

* Saying yes all the time will lead to feeling over whelmed and stressed.
* It is hard to shake this behaviour due to deep motivational drivers.
* Learning to say no at work is about protecting your time and giving your best.
* Integrity is important – even when you are serving coffee.
* Ask the important questions – it does not have to be a no.
* Know your schedule intimately.
* Be firm, polite and provide context if you are saying no.
* Remember, it might be a no right now but it may not be a no forever.
* Practice saying no in a safe environment.
* What is your one thing? Will saying yes hurt the delivery of this one thing?

Giddy and Excited

Saying no at work is not about being awkward and combative. It is about respecting your own use of time and the quality of the work you are capable of delivering.

We believe we do not control our time and this is not true.
We have a big say in the work we do, when we do it and how we do it.

Saying no will start to change other people’s behaviour as well.
They will start to expect your new way of working and will respect the questions you ask, the commitment to your schedule and that you want to deliver your best work.

I want you to go out today or tomorrow and find a way to say no to someone.

You will feel nervous and afterwards probably a bit giddy and excited.

I’m convinced that taking this brave step will spur you on and you will start to cut the stress that is causing so many issues for you.

I would love to hear what you did, how you did it, what their reaction was and what happened next.

Believe and Take Action.

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Ian Ruane

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