Accelerating the Advancement of Women Leaders 


June 3, 2019

Maybe . . . when it leads to a better yes
There are plenty of instances in life where no 100% means no and ‘Just Say No’ is your best response. But many workplace requests can’t (and shouldn’t) be handled with that two-letter word. Learning when and how to say no is vital to your success and to increasing your contribution.
“Overall, it is far more important to say yes in your career and to volunteer for more responsibility and stretch assignments,” says Karyn Schoenbart, CEO of market information company The NPD Group and best-selling author of Mom.B.A.  “Going above and beyond has definitely helped me rise in my career. However, saying yes to too many things can lead to failure to deliver on your core job and make it impossible to say yes to important new opportunities,” she advises.
Desire to please
Although we often associate people-pleasing with women, all humans are wired to use behaviors that promote acceptance and further the group dynamic. It’s built into our survival mechanisms. That said, women tend to be judged differently when they exhibit the same leadership behaviors as men. Decisive men read as powerful and capable while equally strong women are often judged as cold or ruthless.
Empowering women to say no to overwork or dead-end assignments without derailing career progress requires thoughtful and intentional strategies.
No, and . . .
Of course, you want to be known as a go-to person and team player. That’s why saying no takes serious thought and finesse.
It also requires that you are good at what you do. “When you’re starting out, you need to prove your value by going above and beyond,” Schoenbart says. “You first have to demonstrate strong competence in your role.” Then, when no is your best answer, do it like this.

  • Assess the request. Dig a little to learn more, understand the needs of the requester and demonstrate respect whether being ‘asked’ by your boss or a colleague.
  • Apply the DOC approach. Consider how Distracting the new task will be to your existing workload. Does it dovetail nicely or take you in a time-consuming new direction? Is it related to your top Objectives? Then, Consider the upside. Will you learn something new, gain skills to transition to a new role, or provide exceptional value to your boss or others by taking on the assignment?  Schoenbart remembers serving on a volunteer Board and being asked to take minutes. Rather than bristle at the request, she used it to her advantage. Taking minutes put her in control of the meeting schedule, agenda and how decisions were captured.
  • Say thank you. Especially when asked to take on a new project by your boss or another company leader, offer thanks for the opportunity. This also sets the stage for a two-way conversation about priorities and engages you both in solution finding.
  • Explain why you need to say no in tangible terms. Demonstrate how the new task would syphon focus from a higher-priority, higher-impact project. Be concise and specific and avoid over-apologizing.
  • Offer alternatives. Is it possible to support the request in small ways, provide helpful resources or serve as a sounding board? Schoenbart recommends saying, “Here’s what I can do for you . . .”
When you can say no appropriately and effectively, you gain the opportunity to say yes to the big breaks.

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