There’s been a recurring theme with clients in the past few days about an apparent incapacity or difficulty in saying ‘no’ to impossible requests, too-tight agendas or differences of opinion. This is not just endemic to Latin America. More and more it strikes people all over the world, focused 24-7 with trying to please everyone. It would seem that the two-letter word is so dreadful that we would rather accept the impossible and have to come up with the most intricate excuses just so we don’t have to actually say ‘no’. Negatives are uncomfortable. We worry about being disliked, seeming stubborn or even losing the business/client/partner/friend (the list goes on).
I confess that a ‘no’ is not only possible, it’s healthy. Limits, even as children, are good for us. They are necessary and beneficial to the individual and the relationship – whether it’s professional, romantic, familial, etc. Limits give us clear parameters and allow us a starting point and some security to move and try new things. Having said that, and understanding that saying ‘no’ is uncomfortable for many of us, I’d like to share with you that it is indeed possible to give a ‘positive no’.
An example of a common occurrence for me as an account director at an advertising agency in Mexico:
“Ale, I need the changes to the TV, radio and print campaign for tomorrow.”
- Answer 1: “Yes, I’ll get right on it.” This answer implies destroying personal and professional limits that you’ll be hard-put to reestablish. The request is impossible to do in 24 hours. You open the possibility of doing shoddy work, making mistakes or simply not delivering in the limited timeframe.
- Answer 2: “No. I can’t do it. I’m sorry.” This option shows stubbornness and a lack of willingness to solve the problem. Feelings of injustice that this kind of request was made at all can push us to want to answer like this, but we should avoid it all costs.
- Answer 3: “I understand your need for a quick turnover with this, but what you’re asking for simply can’t be done in 24 hours. If you agree, what I can deliver are changes for the TV campaign in 24 hours, and in 48 hours we’ll have changes in radio and press pieces. I need to coordinate a lot of people on the team for this and I don’t want to let you down.”
This last option doesn’t just open the door for a richer dialogue in finding solutions; it also shows a transparency and collaboration as key elements of this professional relationship.
Again, I’m not asking you to start shouting “NO” left, right and center and deal with the consequences. Instead, be aware of each situation and explain it as completely as you can. A ‘positive no’ offers an explanation of why you have to say ‘no’ and gives alternatives to get to the best solution.
Believe me, the honesty that a well thought out ‘no’ implies will be appreciated. And you’ll be surprised at the results and the strengthened relationships that this type of dialogue brings.
Google, Amazon, and other data-driven companies have used their their strength – data analysis – to challenge conventional thought in human capital and what makes sense in terms of hiring and retaining new generations.
They have discovered that attracting great people will fail if employees encounter a command-and-control, stifling work environment. They have identified new key factors of high-performance cultures: transparency, autonomy, voice and collaborative decision making.
These factors threaten most traditional work cultures in which secrecy, hierarchy and centralized decision-making are the norm. Most executives are daunted by the change. Making the leap to an organizational culture designed for 21st century work and a workforce made up of Millenials is no easy thing for traditional, hierarchy-heavy organizations. Companies that have failed to make this leap question why they have difficulties retaining young talent. Google, Amazon and other top companies have excelled in these areas and are the “hot” options for young adults entering the workforce. There’s a reason for that.
At Conversari, we’ve discovered that “soft skills” are fundamental management competencies and are a company’s best bet when thinking about how to shift to a modern work culture. These include abilities to:
- Lead with an inspiring vision
- Co-create clear objectives and boundaries
- Provide feedback and internal trainings
- Communicate and negotiate across disciplines
The good news about these skills? They can be learned. And they happen to be just what young talent wants out of leadership.
I often hear that my coachees are able to describe, with some degree of detail, the external circumstances that affect their results, the results their teams obtain and even the results they achieve with their supervisors.
Whether you’re a supervisor, the leader of an organization, part of a team or business unit, the most powerful question and one that opens the door to more advanced reflection is – What is your contribution in the achievement of those results? What are you doing to elicit feedback from your boss? What are you contributing to your team, organization or business unit so that you get the right results?
Without diminishing the importance of external factors on results, doing a proper, clinical analysis of what I am doing or not doing to obtain certain results allows me to identify points that I might not otherwise notice. It allows me to review my actions and places responsibility on me, with myself and with collaborators, for my actions or inactions in achieving results.
Whatever the results are that you’re getting, but especially if they are not the desired ones, stop and ask yourself this one question – What am I contributing to these results? Take a minute or two to think back on your contribution and then develop an action plan to correct the least efficient contributions. If it seems difficult to identify your own contribution, ask for help. Coworkers can be excellent mirrors for our own behaviors and see things we are unable to see.
Be sure of one thing. You are contributing to the achievement of results at all times, whether those are personal, a team’s, your organization’s or your business unit’s.