It’s Okay to Say, “NO”
I grew up in a small town in Wyoming where the majority of the town’s population lives on farms and ranches. At the start of my senior year of high school, my best friend Cal and I were dating two girls. These girls were also best friends and the very definition of “cowgirls.” Diana, who Cal was dating, worked as a guide offering horse trail rides for tourists. These two beautiful young girls concocted what they thought would be a fun date—taking Cal and I on a trail ride to some faraway location where we would picnic. When we arrived for the ride, Tanya, who I was dating, asked if I was comfortable riding a horse. Despite the fact that my grandfather and uncle were “real” cowboys who owned and operated an outfitting business, I had very little experience riding horses. However, I couldn’t let them think I was some inexperienced city slicker, so I lied . . .
“Oh yeah, I ride horses—barrel racing, obstacle courses, I can do it all. Give me that big horse!”
The next thing I knew, we were on the trail. My horse was leading the way with me on his back holding the reigns with white knuckles. We were only on the trail a few minutes when the horse Cal was riding decided he should be in front of the pack, and trotted on ahead. My horse was not having that, so he retook the lead. When Cal’s horse again attempted to pull ahead, my horse took off in a full gallop.
I tugged, pulled, and heaved on the reigns to no avail. That horse would not stop. As the eighteen years of my life began to flash before my eyes, a funny thing happened. It was almost as if I could here William Tell Overture, the theme music for The Lone Ranger. Just like something out of a movie, Tanya rode up alongside me, grabbed my horse’s reigns, and brought us both to a stop. Fortunately, nothing was hurt. That is, except my pride.
Fast forward to 2015. My daughter who has never ridden a horse, loves horses. For her birthday, we bought her a month of riding lessons. During her first lesson, her instructor showed her how to brush the horse, clean its hooves, and mount it. The instructor then showed my daughter how to turn the horse in a tight left circle, followed by a tight right circle, then how to pull on the reigns to stop or make the horse go backwards. The big moment had finally arrived, and the instructor asked my daughter if she was ready to learn how to ride forward. What was her reply?
“No, I can’t do that now. I want to practice turning and backing up a little bit more first.”
I was blown away! The instructor mentioned to me that this is a personality trait she has seen before, though it’s not a common one—someone who is willing to say no when they don’t feel comfortable taking on the next assignment.
So how does this relate to you and me?
The Silence Fails Study conducted by VitalSmarts and The Concours Group reveals that there are specific conversations that need to happen for flawless execution. These conversations include speaking up about Fact-free Planning; when deadlines are set with no consideration for reality, and Skirting; when you are working around the priority setting process.
Have you ever been asked to work on a project that you didn’t have the time to work on? Have you ever been asked to work on something that you didn’t even know how to do? Have you ever been asked to do something that wasn’t your job? Did you accept the project? If so, why? Because completing this assignment could make you look good to the right people? Because you didn’t want your boss to think you were incompetent? Because you wanted to be seen as a team player? Next time you receive an unrealistic request, think of saying, “No, I can’t do that now,” and take a few minutes to discuss the project and the obstacles that you face.
Schedule. If you don’t feel like you have the bandwidth to take on another project, speak up candidly to your manager or whoever is offering the assignment. Let them know the projects you are currently working on as well as expected deadlines. You can also inform them that you are willing to take on the project, but it may mean sacrificing something else.
Know-how. It is hard to admit when you don’t know how to do something that someone expects you to know how to do. I learned the hard way, from an incident other than horse riding, that it is much easier to just admit your lack of confidence up front. Trust me—you look much less intelligent offering a sub-par project, than simply admitting you didn't know what you were supposed to do. I have yet to meet a manager who isn’t willing to invest a little extra time and effort to help their employees be as effective and efficient as possible.
Team Player. The only thing worse than the phrase, “That’s not my job,” is that there are still people who believe that phrase to be a bad one. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to take on additional work to help out your team. I’m also not saying you should avoid anything that comes your way that may not fall into a specific job category. I am saying that you should evaluate the time it will take to do it right now, as well as the added time going forward. Sometimes a “just this once” task can become an “every time” job function that can be very costly to your ongoing project schedule.
It is okay to say “no,” or “I don’t know how,” or “I don’t have time for that.” Things almost always work out better by looking at alternative options to various requests. The key is to communicate frequently, candidly, and clearly with your colleagues about your time, skills, and talents.
Oh, the things you learn from an eleven-year-old.