Just say NO!

Saying ‘no’ can sometimes be a tricky business as Nancy Reagan found out about 20 years ago. No-one wants to be seen as an awkward cuss, never willing to give a hand, but neither do you want to be put upon. As someone once memorably wrote “Your lack of planning is not my crisis”. There are ways of delivering your ‘no’ that are clear and helpful.

By – Lee Morrisey

Stand your ground

The broken record approach of repeating a key phrase is effective, and it’s always a good idea to be ready with a conversation stopper too. Something along the lines of: “As I have already explained, I can’t help with your project work at the moment but I can help you find another colleague who can. If you’d like me to help you now, I will, but otherwise I must get back to my work”.

This can help circumvent 20 minutes of being asked the same thing over and over as your requester attempts to wear you down by a process of attrition. Needless to say, a calm tone of voice and unhurried delivery will help with getting over the message in a pleasant but professional way.

Keep it positive

If you choose to refuse something, you can always offer other ways to resolve the problem. Can you assist in finding another colleague who can help out? Can you help at a later date? Saying “I need to finish this work first and then I can help you on Thursday”, draws your boundary but gives your requester the clear signal that you are willing to help, you just aren’t able to do so at the moment.

Don’t be afraid

Why are you saying no? Are you being asked to do something that you feel is too much of a challenge? Are you habitually ducking any task that will stretch you? This isn’t good, people. Personal and professional development is our responsibility too, and if you are being given a vote of confidence with the offer of a project outside of your usual remit, grab it. Not only will you show willing, you will have the opportunity to develop new skills, contacts and enhance your reputation. That’s the way interesting jobs are built.

If you really do feel it’s too big a step, ask if you can do part of the job or say you would feel happy tackling it if you had support – and say what support you need (dedicated help from someone else, training, equipment). It may sound hideously selfish but a good benchmark is WIFM – ‘What’s In It For Me?’ The pay off may not be quick but if it adds to your reputation or skills base, then grab it with both hands.

Why ‘no’ and not ‘yes’

‘No’ as revenge is not a very good tactic and rarely satisfying. One of the problems about using guerrilla warfare in the office is that the employer rarely notices and even if they do, they will have no idea how your refusal to do something links with another issue you are mad as hell about. There is no way this side of Christmas that your employer is going to think “Aha! I bet I know why Fred said no to helping out in marketing – I didn’t respond to his request for extra help at year end. Yes, it all makes sense now…” It’s not going to happen, so you’re better off keeping your emotional lines clear. By that I mean be honest with yourself about why you are saying no. If it’s because you are in a strop about something, focus your energies on working out strategies to get that issue sorted.

Don’t feel guilty

If you are saying no for good and honest reasons, then other people should respect that. You are paid in part for your expertise and judgement. If you say no, other people should be listening. If you are being asked to do something that you feel uncomfortable about, take notice of and respect your own feelings. It doesn’t matter if the last PA did it or everybody else does it – if it doesn’t sit well with you, refuse.

Don’t go there

If you are being put in the awkward position of saying no a lot, then it may be worthwhile talking to your manager or to your HR department about it. If it is a workload issue, then job descriptions may need to be re-jigged to ensure an equal distribution of work. If it’s cultural issues, then you need to make your employer aware of the problem. It may be something of which they are unaware. Ultimately, if you are in an organisation where the fit between you and them isn’t good, it may be time to move on to somewhere where you feel more at home.

Illegal, immoral and fattening

If you are asked to do something illegal, refuse point blank. Make a note of who asked you to do what, when, and your response. You don’t know if this may come back to bite you at a later stage. Always alert your manager and/or HR department and if you are a union member, talk to your rep or the union’s legal department.

Immorality is different in that your company may be doing things that you find morally repugnant and would rather not take part in, but I’m afraid that you buy the whole package when you accept the salary. For example, if you don’t agree with your employer’s attitude towards ecological matters, you need to make a decision about whether to stay or go. Agreeing to work there and then saying no to certain projects isn’t going to wash and will be seen as hypocritical.

Saying ‘no’ is powerful and helps to define us and our role. Next month, we’ll look at saying ‘yes’ and not biting off more than we can chew.

Lee Morrisey is a PA, writer, life coach, football fan, and Gemini. When she is not being any of these, she can usually be found lying on the sofa, eating chocolate and ignoring the ironing.

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