How do we say no without limiting our careers?

I am overwhelmed at work, all of us are. How do we say no without limiting our careers?

Starting your day with that sinking feeling that comes with being overwhelmed is draining and will impact you on many levels personally and professionally.

Start by identify the reasons for feeling overwhelmed: is it the environment, the workload or the people? Once you have identified the source(s) work out what is in your control to influence and focus on this. You can do this in a variety of ways:

  • Get together with your team members and brainstorm possible solutions to help ease the situation.
  • Talk to your manager about the issues and how the team is being impacted and the resulting business impact of this, eg. staff retention, more sick leave being taken, short cuts that result in longer term problems, etc. Present a possible plan/solution to address the issues, work together with your manager on what is achievable.
  • Assess your priorities, what’s urgent, what’s important and what’s not. We are all very good at being busy, the ultimate modern day accessory, the question is what are we busy doing? What can you delegate, share responsibility for or dump? Understanding your priorities can at times be challenging and this is something that is important to spend time getting clear on.

Find your allies. Talking to some overwhelmed executives today and asking them about strategies that help them when they are overwhelmed the role of allies, mentors and the important aspect of sponsorship was a recurring theme.

A sponsor is someone senior in your organisation who can promote you within their peer group as someone who is worthy of career advancement, someone who can be trusted and listened to. They are your internal PR and these relationships will help you advance in your career, as your sponsor moves up in the business, so will you. This may be a priority you haven’t considered focusing on.

Some tips on how to say no:

  • For everything you say yes to, be very clear about what you are saying no to and vice versa. For example, if there is a project that your sponsor is passionate about driving through the business and asks you to be involved, understanding what the no brings is important.
  • Before launching straight into the ‘no’ spend some time meeting the person who you are going to say no to. This meeting is deeper than just getting together, it’s taking time to understand what’s going on for them and this piece of work. What are they/the business hoping to achieve? What is it that they think you can do that someone else can’t? Assessing the validity of the task/ project. A model for this is to CONNECT – Be present and hear what they have to say, their concerns, etc. ACKNOWLEDGE – I can see your dilemma the whole team is over stretched at present and someone needs to do this. FEARLESS – Be fearless in your no with business reasons to back it up and work with them to find someone else to delegate to.
  • Pause, don’t feel obligated to give an answer on the spot, tell the person who is making the request of you that you will get back to them. This will give you time to assess the request, your workload and your response.
  • In an interview with Forbes magazine, Michael Watkins, the founder of founder of Genesis Advisers, who has taught negotiation courses to executives at Harvard, says the key to saying no is to be polite but direct. “Don’t worry about seeming ‘nice’,” says Watkins. Many people offer unnecessary details or even flattery when saying no, hoping kind words will soften the rejection. That can backfire, Watkins says. Every nice thing you say about the project gives the requester a chance to push harder for you to say yes. And listing all 25 things on your to-do list will make you seem defensive, as if you really believe you should be saying yes. For the full article click here.

Pollyanna Lenkic is the founder of Perspectives Coaching, an Australian based coaching and training company. In 1990 she co-founded a specialist IT recruitment consultancy in London, which grew to employ 18 people and turnover £11 million ($27 million). In this blog Pollyanna answers questions from our readers on issues they are experiencing leading or being part of a team.  She offers insights on teams and team dynamics. For support and information on team days run by Perspectives Coaching see here. Her previous Blog for SmartCompany, 2nd Time Around was about the mistakes she made and the lessons she learned building a business the first time round and how to do it better second time round.

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