Tag Archives: career development

“N” is for (saying) No

Where are you most likely to hear the following sentence, “No, I can’t, my plate is full.”

  1. a) Thanksgiving dinner
  2. b) In an office

Most will pick “a”, as the idea of actually saying “no” at work or in other situations in our lives is unfathomable. Say ‘no” at work? Say “no” at my child’s school? Say “no” to the family? C’mon!

Ponder this for a moment: “No” is sometimes the best answer.

Why do we have such an adverse reaction to saying no? Because team players, go-to individuals, employees with “can do” attitudes, and those who get ahead never say no…or do they?

th-18Before examining “no”, let’s first look at “yes”. What can happen when we say “yes” to everything that comes our way or is asked of us? We end up agreeing to do things we:

  • Don’t have time to do
  • Don’t have the resources to do
  • Don’t want to do / don’t know how to do
  • Are given because no one else wants to do them
  • Are given because we never say no

The bullet points above can lead to stress, resentment, feeling put upon…you get the picture. Negative outcomes. No one looks or performs their best when they feel these things.

Stress and resentment make tempers short, lowers your immune system and kicks morale into th-3the basement. Such feelings can also lead to the very outcomes we try to avoid: disappointing people, avoiding the guilt that can come with saying no, not being seen as the team player/can-do person, or suffering imagined consequences.

Remember, we are talking about saying no when it is appropriate to do so. Despite your good intentions, you will not be seen as “can do” if you truly can’t deliver what is being asked or deliver it late, or have to retreat from a commitment.

th-3How can “no” be said best?

  • Say no and yes at the same time. Say no to the original request and then offer something else that will help the requestor out. What can you do? Offer an alternative: “Wanda might be able to help you. She’s great with Excel.” or “I can’t go to lunch but let’s walk to the train together tonight and you can ask your questions then.”
  • Say it without equivocation or a flurry of excuses or long explanations. Your reasons for saying no are, in the mind of the person making the request, rarely as legitimate as their request. “No, I can’t. I have plans.” “No, I can’t, I’m under a deadline.” Then stop talking! A pause on your part will often urge the other person to move on.
  • Stop volunteering for low profile, no-one-else-will-do-it assignments. It’s not your responsibility to solve someone else’s need for volunteers. Keep your hand down!

How do you know when to say no? Previous posts on this blog have talked about gaining self-awareness, pursuing goals and making plans for development. Evaluating a request by the th-7benefits it can bring you is important and strategic. If you say yes to everything hoping it will bring you visibility and/or development, you may find yourself working on a dead-end project, or swamped with commitments just when the opportunity you’ve been waiting for comes along. Remember, it is easier to say no when you have a direction / goal / strategy.

Successful people don’t say yes to everything. They have a strategy. Do you? They know time and energy are limited resources. They want to use their time and energy to best advantage. Two articles, “When to Say No in Business.” (Claire Shipman and Kathy Kay) and How to Say “No” by Saying “Yes” (Patricia Fripp) offer good questions to ask yourself when presented with a request you are ambivalent about.th-2

  • How does this request benefit me?
  • Will saying yes make a difference in my career?
  • Will I have this opportunity again?
  • How do I feel when I think of saying yes?
  • How will this affect my work/life balance?
  • Do I really want to do this?

The fear of negative career consequences may cause us to say yes to requests where no is the better answer. If we say yes because we believe “no” will have a negative impact on our career, even though we don’t have the time / skills necessary to generate the best result, think again. thSaying no can strengthen your reputation as someone who delivers or says “no” when we can’t! What career consequence will result if we come up short or late or have to pull out halfway through? Be realistic, not reactive.

What if our plates are full but we really want to do what is being requested? Again, be realistic. Are you willing to make the sacrifices necessary? Do you want to do this thing because you should or because you really want to?

Warren Buffett is quoted as saying, “The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything.” I’m not saying to go that far. I’m saying “no” can be a positive, powerful, and appropriate response.th-4

Just as you know to say no when someone tries to add another dollop of sweet potatoes to your plate at Thanksgiving, know when to say no at work. You and the work will be better for it.


“D” is for Development

“I am still learning.” – Michelangelo (1475-1564)

 Here are some interesting (and horrifying) statistics I found at Hot For Words while researching this article http://hotforwords.com/2011/04/11/42-of-people-who-graduate-from-college-never-read-another-book

  • 1/3 of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives.th
  • 42 percent of college graduates never read another book after college.
  • 80 percent of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year. (Source: Jenkins Group)

Can this be true? As a life-long learner, not to mention an author, these are scary stats.

Learning and development are pretty well planned out for us through high school graduation. Choices are few when it comes to what we learn in elementary and middle school. With progression to high school choices expand and until we graduate we are in a learning environment whether we like it or not. But unless you choose to pursue higher education, the “steps” to formal education stop there. Does the learning? Who is responsible for your continued intellectual growth when high school, college or grad school th-6ends? That would be you.

Even if school was not your “thing” there is a multitude of ways to expand your awareness/knowledge, tap into your potential and hone your talents outside of the classroom…even outside the workplace. Why would you want to keep learning? Continued development elevates your employability, increases chances for promotion, improves interpersonal relationships and research shows, helps you manage stress. No real downsides there.

What can you as an individual do to develop your skills as a professional as we head into mid-year? The choices are many regardless of your budget and time. The first step is determining what you want to learn. Let’s say you are an individual contributor and want to cross over into the management track. How might you prepare?

th-4Start with a candid conversation with your boss. Keep this conversation apart from your performance review. Make this a separate, dedicated conversation. Give your boss a heads up about the focus of your meeting so that he/she might also prepare for the conversation. For example: “Boss, I’d like to manage people in the future. How can I begin to prepare for such a role?”

Don’t be put off by the fact that there may not be any such positions available right now. Remember, you want to begin preparing now and developing the skills you need for when the opportunity arises. It’s always wise to come to this meeting prepared with some development ideas of your own. Suggestions you present to your boss might be:

  • Assignment to a task forces (or team or project) on which you can be in a leadership role
  • Classes/workshops you have researched both within the company and from outside vendors that focus on the skills you need to develop
  • Come to the meeting with a project idea of your own design that you would like to recruit others to work on with you. With this, you can work to develop influencing, leadership and project management skills, demonstrate creativity, and help solve a departmental or organizational problem.

For conversation sake, let’s say the boss isn’t onboard right now. Is that the end of it? No! The workplace is not the only venue for development of self or career. Involvement in outside organizations can help you develop skills needed on the job and for life. Get involved at your child’s school, in your community, at your place of worship or in the professional association of imagesyour field. All these places of opportunity have little if any cost, but for your time. For example: as a consultant I don’t get many opportunities to supervise people or call all the shots on a project. Four years ago when my church decided to open a resale shop I jumped at the chance to bring my business startup knowledge to the project. Today, I am the shop manager. I train volunteers, create and delegate assignments, handle customer complaints, etc. I have developed and use skills that my consulting practice doesn’t call upon often. What I have learned with the shop has made me a stronger consultant.

If your employer can’t pay for a workshop or class, look for a class you can handle through your th-5own budget. Not all seminars are hundreds of dollars. Explore what your local library or continuing education department of your local high school district/park district/community college has to offer. Libraries often bring in business speakers and the cost to the public is free.

Don’t have much time outside work for involvement? Once you decide what it is you want to learn more about, start with reading about it. With traditional books, eBooks and books on CD there is little excuse not to expand your world through the words of others.th-8

And I haven’t even touched on the number of courses and webinars that are online at little or no cost. Check out the free courses from top schools you can access online. Some even provide certificates of completion. https://www.edx.org. You can see and learn from fabulous speakers and thought leaders via TED talks. Their tag line is “Riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world.”www.TED.com

Opportunities for development are all around us. Time and cost are not valid excuses for any of us to stop learning…or giving back, which can also be a great development experience. Don’t be the person who has not read a book since high school/college/grad school ended. There has never been a better time to expand your horizons.