When did saying "no" become so scary? Can saying and hearing "no" actually be a good sign about the health of your team and the effectiveness of your leadership?
I like to get as many things done in a day as much as the next person, but I have learned over time that a lukewarm "yes" can hurt more than a polite, but firm "no" -- saying it and hearing it. A hurried acceptance of a project will likely lead to a hurried execution. A refusal of a project or task allows for a reevaluation of priorities. Here's why it pays to listen and accept that you can't do it all and why you shouldn't expect other people to either.
The Detriments of Being a "Yes" Person
For some people, saying "yes" is more of a nervous tick than an actual consideration. The feel-good rush of stepping up to the plate and being the dependable one.
But what are the dangers of saying "yes" all the time?
1. You overwhelm yourself and create stress
This one is obvious. Accepting meetings, side projects, countless revisions, demanding clients -- whatever your choice of poison -- will lead to a jam-packed schedule and endless juggling. If you're always saying yes to others, you put yourself on the bottom of your priority list. Sleep gets the shaft, exercise gets bumped, nutrition suffers, friends could feel alienated and family time is a tight squeeze. The stress you create for yourself can snowball and lead to burnout.
2. You overpromise and under deliver
You know that feeling when you see an amazing movie trailer only to end up walking away completely let down by how bad the movie actually was? Would it have been as bad if you didn't see the trailer and get excited beforehand? This is the detriment of setting expectations high and not being able to meet them. When you say you can do something but only have enough time to approach the project haphazardly, you run the risk of disappointing others and creating a reputation around the quality of your work.
3. You get exploited and taken advantage of
Don't be surprised that after weeks of staying late at the office to finish all the tasks you're constantly agreeing to that you're the first person asked to come in on the weekend or on a holiday while everyone else enjoys their free time. Just like the puppy trained to respond to Pavlov's bell, you condition others to treat you a certain way. When people come to expect your likeliness to do whatever they ask, you have trained them to feel comfortable asking you for countless favors. Congratulations, you're the office doormat.
4. You lose any sense of priority
Out of the 100 items on your to-do lists, do you know the relevant and critical from the filler? Taking on a boatload of projects and tasks might make you an efficient worker but not an effective one. As Peter Drucker once said, "Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things." In other words, you can either be a cog in the machine, or you can make the machine bigger, better, faster, stronger.
5. You never learn to delegate
We've recently written about the importance of reaching your zone of genius through working yourself out of your current role - either through establishing processes or delegation. Those who get high off of adding more to their plate never learn to distribute their responsibilities to the right people and remain stuck on a hamster wheel.
The Harm of Hiring "Yes" People
As a leader and manager, it's important to recognize these "yes" people and understand how work horses can actually hurt your team.
1. Burnout creates weak links
As we mentioned, a stressed out employee helps no one. The resulting burnout can lead to a disruption in productivity and usually occur at the most critical of times. Nip these issues in the bud when you see people taking on too much or if you notice quality of work beginning to suffer. Team retreats that allow a collective "unplugging" is a stress-free way to get everyone on the same page again without singling anyone out.
2. The Shaming Effect
No two people are built the same. When you have an effective team member working side by side with an efficient but overwhelmed colleague, morale is more likely to go down than up. That's because the effective person feels shamed by the sheer busyness of their peer that they find filler to-dos that don't maximize their time or talents. The fear that the "yes" person is more crucial to the team since they "do" more can drive up stress about job security in the rest of the team.
3. The illusion of doing but not accomplishing
In this poignant post from the brilliant folks at 37Signals, Fire the Workaholics, David Heinemeier Hansson talks about those who throw hours at work, not creative solutions. If your startup relies on everyone to bring their top game, time is a luxury not a tactic and those who work by the clock will eventually reach a dead end.
Why Say "No" (With Grace)
It's all about priorities and productivity. Saying "no" does not make someone lazy. It exemplifies an awareness that:
a) they cannot take on more and still achieve the quality in respect to the work that is already on their plate
b) they are not blindly managing their time, and
c) they might actually be highlighting where more support is required.
This can help leaders decide on which way to scale their business through hiring, new processes or software solutions.
Being able to say "no" with grace is no easy feat. Lifehack has some great ways to kindly and respectfully decline more work. My personal favourite tip is to start with, "I already have several time-sensitive projects on the go" to allow the other person know you're not just saying no because you don't want to help but because you have your plate full.
Take the time to say no, give a thoughtful explanation but also, time permitting offer up some solutions or options. Instead of being a wall, be a window. You might not be able to open the door and take on the task but you might help whoever is asking for your help by showing them another way.
Don't feel guilty if you can't say "yes" and don't get stuck when you hear an apologetic "no." Take these instances to commend the ability to prioritize and know when it's time to find better ways to get it all done.
Have you ever dealt with the detriments of being a "yes" person or working with one? Let us know in the comments below.