The art of saying... no
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🙅 Seven Ways to Say No Gracefully: a Critical Skill for Generalist Success
Hey folks! Welcome back. Today we’re digging into something that I’m sure all of us can relate to — the art of saying “no”.
In ~2 mins, you’ll have actionable takeaways you can start using today. Yehoooo! Let’s get to it.
Sometimes having a broad skill set can be a blessing and a curse.
As a generalist, armed with a range of skills and strengths, you might find you’re easily excited by the many opportunities that come your way. But, alas, we can’t do it all — saying yes to everything can quickly lead to over commitment and overwhelm.
That's why saying no is a crucial skill for success.
If you’re anything like me, saying no gracefully does not necessarily come naturally. It feels some combination of awkward, uncollaborative, and, well, not quite right.
However, if you reframe saying no to some things as saying a more enthusiastic yes to others, it’s clear why this is a worthwhile skill to develop.
So, how do you actually say no when presented with an opportunity?
Let’s dig into a couple of examples.
Scenario A — When you’re presented with an opportunity but haven’t agreed yet:
Show Your Excitement
If you're excited about something but have to say no, explain that you are thrilled about the idea but don't have the capacity to work on it at the moment. Give them a chance to find a partner that can provide what they actually need. Better yet, recommend someone who might be a great fit for the opportunity.
Use ‘No for Now’
When presented with something that you would like to pursue but can’t at this time, thank the person for thinking of you and ask that they reach back out in XX time when you might have more capacity. You can also proactively reach out to see if there are ways to contribute in the future when your plate is less full.
Scenario B — When you have already said yes and need to renegotiate your commitment:
If you have already said yes to something and find yourself unable to follow through, be creative. Can you find another way to get it done? Is there someone else who can help? Be open to alternatives and explore options before going into the ‘no’ conversation.
Phase Off, But Be Clear About What You Can Finish
If you're leaving a project, create an off-ramp plan that gives support in the meantime. Be clear about what you can complete and what will be outstanding. Don't leave loose ends or let people down. Set realistic timelines and stick to them.
Don't Break Ties
Saying no doesn't mean you need to end a relationship. You can still maintain a strong relationship even as you step back from something, if you do it in the right way. Communicate clearly, be honest, and focus the discussion on you and your capacity
Two other tips that helped me adopt a critical mindset around what I say yes and no to:
Make ‘No’ or Delegation the Default Setting
I think of this like a triage list. The first step is to convince myself why something is a yes vs. a no. No is the default and everything that gets a ‘yes’ must pass through a screening process first.
Then, the second step is ‘does it have to be me’. If something is a yes, I think through if I am the best suited to do it. If not, I find another way to accomplish the outcome.
One-in, One-out Strategy
If something gets added, something else has to go. This way of thinking applies to anything that requires energy and mental capacity. It forces me to be very deliberate about adding things to my calendar or list of commitments. If it feels painful, which sometimes is the case, that means I am making tough tradeoffs.
If I’m enthusiastic about an opportunity AND I’m the right person to add value AND I’ve made space for the effort - then I go forward without hesitation.
Saying no as a generalist is a necessary skill for success. It can help you stay focused on your priorities, avoid over-commitment, and maintain strong relationships. Remember to be creative, clear, and respectful when saying no. And don't forget to try out making delegation and ‘no’ your default settings.
📚️ Further Reading
About our guest author, Kathryn:
Kathryn Montbriand spent a decade championing culture change at a Fortune 500 company. She pioneered a first-of-its-kind team of ‘Culturists’ that focused on employee engagement and creating authentic connections in the workplace. She used that same spirit of positive disruption to create Montbriand Services which provides Fractional Chief of Staff support, and Lived and Loved which enables people to access their stories in an innovative way.
Till next time, I’m cheering for you!