Tag Archives: career strategies

“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.


“M” is for Mission Statement (Yours)

The week after Christmas last year, a friend and I went on a movie binge. In five days time we saw five movies and no double headers either). Two of the movies, Big Eyes and Wild shared the theme of finding one’s strength, though the main characters took very different routes to do so. The character in Wild started me thinking about personal missions.

wildIn this true story, Cheryl Strayed undertakes a 1200-mile walk along the Pacific Coast Trail. Her “mission” is far greater than to just get from Mexico to Canada; she is on a journey to get her life in order after falling into addiction with the death of her mother. Success for this woman was not finishing the trail; it was rediscovering who she was and transforming her life.

Most of us don’t undertake such monumental journeys for any reason; yet each of us can do better in life and in our careers if we have a framework to help guide our decisions and make us aware of why we do what we do. Companies have mission statements to guide them. Why don’t we?

A mission statement is a clear, concise declaration of what a company wants toth-5 be. If you were a company, what would your mission statement be? How do you intend to be in the world? What is your purpose? How do you want to be perceived?

Two interesting company mission statements I discovered were from Apple (of course) and surprisingly, Jamba Juice. In a montage of Steve Jobs video clips, he th-2said over and over again, “We strive to make the world’s best personal computers.” It’s brief, specific and in terms of guiding decisions I can imagine the C-suite at Apple asking, “But does it help us make the best personal computers?” as they discussed going one direction over another.

Jamba Juice included values in their statement: Jamba! Enriching the daily th-3experience of our customers, our community and ourselves through the life-nourishing qualities of fruits and vegetables.

What does “enriching the daily experience of our customers” mean? Jamba Juice, Inc. included what they call their FIBER Values: Fun, Integrity, Balance, Empowerment and Respect

What makes writing a personal mission statement daunting is that each word is critical and brevity is important. I had little luck in my online search for personal mission statement examples. What might be called a mission statement for a company is often called a personal vision statement when attributed to an individual. Vision statements are often guided by values.

In a 2013 article for Forbes.com, Patrick Hull offers four questions to ask when crafting a mission statement:

  • What do I do?
  • How do I do it?
  • For whom do I do it?
  • What value do I bring?


I suggest adding another question: Why do I do it? In some cases this may be theth-7 only question you need to ask for your personal statement. If your personal mission statement is to help guide your decisions and behaviors in the world, the why is crucial!

Simon Sinek, in his fabulous TED talk on leadership, speaks of “the why” and how leaders who start from “the why” instead of “the what” are more effective. People internalize the why over the what. http://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action.html

In my career, I have helped company executives as they struggle to compose their company’s mission statement. It is hard, painstaking, and thoughtful work. It will be no less for you.

th-1My advice is to simply brainstorm some ideas on paper. Ask trusted friends how they would describe you in the world, not in the physical sense but in terms of spirit/energy. Write it all down, and then let it sit. Revisit it in a few days. Revise and let it sit. You will know when you get the right words.

My mission, written some years ago after a Covey workshop, and revisited yearly is not exactly succinct, but it reflects how I want to be at work and in my personal life.th-6“I rejoice in the abundance, potential and opportunities given to me each day. I recognize my power to influence the world around me and will use my skills, talents and gifts to the best of my ability and for the overall good. I understand my behavior, both deliberate and unplanned, impacts others. I will live in a way that helps others recognize their own worth and potential.”

This statement has helped me make life choices and career decisions. Will a proposed project allow me to use my talents for the overall good or is it just good money? My statement lifts me up when things are not going the way I hoped and helps me understand that even when I don’t intend to, my behaviors have an impact on others. Best of all, it reminds me of the abundance in the world.





Career Strategies: B is for Behavior

“B” is for Behavior

chocolateLast fall, a friend and I decided to take a chocolate tour of Chicago. On the appointed day, we showed up at the Wrigley Building and began looking for our tour guide. We approached a woman who, while looking rather cross, also looked official. Was she connected with the chocolate tour, we asked.

“Yes,” she replied. “We’re waiting for a second guide. She’s late and I can’t take everyone.” Her tone matched her weary facial expression. She checked off our names and dismissed us by never making eye contact again. A few minutes later, the second guide arrived. Participants were asked to join one of the two women.

“I don’t want to go with crabby pants,” one young woman whispered to her friend. Others must have felt the same way, for much coaxing was needed to get the right number of people in the original guide’s group.

We often think of behavior as performance, but the two are not always the same thing. None of us knew the competence or experience of the “crabby” guide. Her knowledge of the seven chocolate shops we visited may have been stellar, but her behavior turned people off.

Behavior, as well as performance, affects the bottom line of any business. As writers anJerikd speakers, our behavior with readers/fans/meeting planners affects repeat business. What role does your behavior play in your success? Where do courtesy, respect, and professionalism to others with whom you interact fall on your radar?

Most people would probably find it easier to tell you what being unprofessional is, giving examples of unprofessional people they have dealt with in the past. However, it is much easier and more positive to know what to do than not to do.” Tash Hughes of Word Constructions.com goes on in her post Being A Professional to list a number of behaviors: apologizing, taking responsibility, being prepared for meetings, and accepting feedback to name a few. http://www.wordconstructions.com/articles/business/professional.html

For most of us, behaviors such as punctuality, keeping confidences, and being fair in constructive feedback are common sense. How did we learn them? Did we see them exhibited early in our careers? Did we learn them in school? In any case, professional behavior is essential to career success. It is our responsibility as individuals experienced in professional workplace behavior to pass this knowledge on to those who are new.

In this age of increased technology, new forms of bad behavior can be seen daily. How many of us have been in meetings where people are obviously texting one   texting another, or texting in general rather than participating in the discussion? How many folks neglect to turn off their phones (or at least put them on vibrate) during meetings or when a speaker is giving a presentation? The “pace of business” is a poor excuse for lack of courtesy/rude behavior.

In The Cost of Bad Behavior, author Christine Porath devotes an entire chapter to her work at Cisco Systems. I quote, “The company values interpersonal skills and mutual respect in its hiring, but when Porath helped Cisco calculate the impact of even occasional acts of incivility, it amounted to a hefty sum. If just 1 percent of employees experienced workplace$$$ incivility, she says, the cost of lost work time and employee departures would add up to almost $12 million a year.”

As speakers and writers it may be more difficult to quantify what is lost in repeat bookings or when readers don’t pick up our books because of a diva reputation. But the effect is there. Remember some years ago when a famous author was accused of plagiarizing the work of another? Her sales plummeted.

Professional, courteous behavior is a soft skill with hard consequences when it goes missing. Part of good behavior is being simply being present in the moment to what is happening, looking beyond the press of the buzzing phone.

A client recently told me of an experience he had while getting his haircut. While the stylist did a great job (he’d been going to her for years), he had been thinking about finding someone new as he felt invisible while sitting in her chair. “She was always talking to people other than me, occasionally answering her phone. I literally felt like an object. Last time I was there, it was amazing. She concentrated only on me. When her phone rang, she commented that voice mail would take care of it. She looked me in eye (through the mirror) as we chatted. It was a wonderful experience.” His stylist was always talented and when she added professionalism and courtesy to her services she retained a customer on the verge of leaving.

Take some time to become more aware of how you interact with others. Are you treating them as you would expect to be treated? Do others feel good after an interaction with you? Keep in mind, how people treat each other is often a reflection of how they are treated. It all begins with us.behavior