Monday, February 16, 2009

Are You Afraid to Just Say "No" at Work?


"Taylor, can you help me out with this report? I need some research done by tomorrow, or I'm really going to be in trouble."

"Sure."

"Taylor, we need someone to head up this new committee, and I think you'd be perfect. Can you put a team together by next Tuesday?"

"Sure."

"Taylor, we're really having trouble with this client and it would be so helpful if you could go there and sort of calm them down. It would be great if you could leave right away."

"Sure."

"Taylor, someone left a mess in the break room. On yourlunch hour, do you think you could use your great organizational skills and bring order to the chaos?"

"Sure."

Many of us hate to say "no." We say "sure" or "yes" to requests for many reasons, but few of them have to do with what is best for us and our careers. We don't say"no" because we don't want someone to be mad at us. We say "yes" because we feel guilty or we're afraid of what could happen if we don't agree to a request.

And, in this rotten job market, we are afraid to say "no" for fear it could cost us our job.

But I recently interviewed some psychologists for my Gannett News Service and USAToday.com column, and they made it crystal clear that not learning to say "no" may be terrible for your career -- and your life.

“When you’re scared about being the next one to be laid off, all kinds of dysfunctional things start to happen,” says Pat Pearson, a Newport Beach, Calif.-based clinical psychotherapist. “You start getting more paranoid, you do your work less well, and you start feeling as if you can’t say ‘no.’ So, you take on anything they throw at you.”

But the problem, Pearson says, is that such a move just makes a career “more and more dysfunctional.”

“You have to decide: Are you going to have a healthy work environment or not?”

Paula Bloom, an Atlanta-based clinical psychologist, says that every worker must realize they only have so much emotional capital to expend every day, and pushing the limits may cost them the very thing they’re hoping to protect.

“If there is too great an emotional cost, then you will become resentful and unpleasant, and not nice to be around. And people who are a pain in the butt are often the ones who are let go,” Bloom says.

Both Pearson and Bloom stress that the emotional and physical cost of never saying “no” – even in this stressful job market – can take a real toll on workers.

“If you don’t feel good about what you’re taking on, then you become negative and angry, and then you’re not only hurting yourself, you’re hurting the company because you’re not going to be as productive,” Pearson says. “If you are doing things you don’t want to do, then you’re going to pay a price with your health. You’re going to get sick more often, and have a high stress level."

But how do you say “no” without being considered a poor team player or labeled with some other negative moniker at work? Both Bloom and Pearson says it’s a matter of understanding your boundaries and then being prepared to make the “no” sound positive. They advise:


Be willing to ask for what you need. "Maybe you’ve been asked to work late, and you can agree to it, except for on Thursdays, when you need to get home on time because your kids have soccer,” Person says. “You have to decide how much you can live with, and what you can’t do without."

Taking a deep breath. “Don’t freak out when someone makes a request. Just say, ‘I would love to be able to help you out, but it won’t work today. If you could give me a few days notice next time, I might be able to do it.’” Adds Pearson: “Act thoughtful and say something like, ‘Let me see what I can do.’ It gives you time to think about it and then make a decision when you’re not under pressure.”

Living with integrity. “If you’re screwing around on the Internet for an hour every day, or faking your time card, then you’ll try to compensate for your guilt and say ‘yes’ to everything. If you live with integrity, you’ll be able to say ‘no’ and not feel guilty,” Bloom says.

Understanding the difference between “can’t” and “don’t want to.” Bloom says that even when the boss makes a request, you can say “no” if you’ve made an honest assessment of your workload. “You can always say, ‘I’d like to do that, but can you help me figure out the priority of these nine other things I have to do?’ Put the issue back on the boss.”

How are some other ways people can be smarter about saying "no"?




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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Are You Capable of Asking for the One Thing You Need the Most to be Successful?

I'm going to ask you a very tough question: When was the last time you asked for help?

I'm not talking about a desperate cry for aid when you're, say, about to drop a cardboard tray of Starbucks, or when you ask your friend to hold the door while you bring in the groceries.

No, I'm talking about asking for help at work. When was the last time you said: "I can't get all this done by myself -- can you help?"

This is often a very difficult request for many people. Part of the reason is because we often think it's just easier if we do it ourselves, and part is because we fear we'll be seen as incompetent if we can't handle everything that comes our way. At the same time, we have that niggling feeling that letting anyone else into our "territory" will allow them to get a leg up on us, diminishing our capabilities or hurting our success in some way.

I'll admit it: I'm one of those people. I think it will just be faster and easier to do it myself and I can be very protective of my turf. But I learned a valuable lesson recently when I had surgery on my arm and faced months of rehabilitation. I had to ask for help -- and there were so many people willing to give it. Not because I was asking -- but because they were giving back. Of course they were willing to lend a hand (literally and figuratively), they said, because I had done it many times for them.

Huh. I didn't exaclty remember all those times, but they sure did. And while it was difficult at first to ask for that help, the interactions were so positive that I think I've permanently changed my viewpoint. I've become closer to friends and family, I've formed new bonds with colleagues who were willing to step in and help, and developed new friendships from those who were sympathetic to my plight and offered encouragement and ideas for getting work done.

While I dreaded the months of trying to figure out how to get work done one-armed, instead I found it was a really enriching experience. People were funny and kind and never once tried to take my job. My bosses and clients were understanding and supportive and as the days and weeks went by, I realized that the fear I had of asking for help had slipped away.

In it's place was a real sense of gratitude for the relationships that had grown and for the new ones that had developed. I realized that I was as worthy as anyone else of receiving help, and a simple "thank you" was all that was needed from me.

Since I'm getting back up to speed, I don't need as much help (hardly any, in fact), but I try to remind myself every day of the positive experience that can arise by simply asking for help.

So, what's holding you back?
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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Lack of Delegation Can be Short-Sighted

Have you ever noticed that the people who complain the most about their workload often guard their turf at work like junkyard dogs? In other words, while they moan and groan about how much they have to do, they'd sooner sever a little toe than let anyone touch so much as a file folder or Post-It note on their desk?

Of course, they may tell themselves and others that the reason they don't delegate anything is because a)no one can do a particular task as well as they can; and b)it’s just easier to do it themselves rather than having to explain it to someone else and then having to watch over them every second.

So these people are swamped with work, constantly stressed and always under deadline pressure -- and usually taking that pressure out on co-workers. They don't stop to realize that their attitude affects more than themselves as they often become a bottleneck, more intent on hoarding their work instead of working towards the most efficient process possible.

And when they do delegate -- watch out. It's more than likely they'll be delegating confusion and resentment as they dump tasks they hate on someone else, or put little thought into whether they're giving the work to the right people with the right skills.

In reality, delegating is really on-the-job training, providing those in an organization a chance to stretch and grow. And if someone can’t delegate, then they’re actually hurting the business because it undermines trust and motivation among employees.

So, the next time you don't want to delegate, think about your true motivation. Is it really because you don't think someone else can do the work, or is it because you're afraid they'll do a better job than you? If you're personally insecure about sharing your little fiefdom, then consider this: Those who fear delegating the most are the most dispensable because they are not growing and taking chances.


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