I want you to take a break for a moment and go to the gym. Okay, okay fine…just think of being at the gym. Have you ever maxed out on a bench press or squat, or seen someone else do it? Each set, you add more and more weight; your muscles start quivering and shaking. Either your form will deteriorate or your body will give up in exhaustion, but one way or another you’ll find your limit.
Your workload can take the same toll on you. You pile on more and more work and assignments until your effectiveness suffers, you lose your drive, or you simply have no time left in the day to get everything done. Too often, we are willing participants in the overstretched conspiracy: our good intentions to help colleagues or take on a challenging assignment can leave us stretched beyond capacity. This issue is not saying “no,” it’s knowing when to stop saying “yes!” When you say yes, it’s critical that you weigh the pros and cons and understand exactly what you’re saying yes to.
Oftentimes, I have the most difficult saying no to friends or family. We’ve all been there—a close colleague of yours wants your help on a new project that they’re working on and comes to you for advice, but you’re overwhelmed at the moment and don’t think you can take on another task. It can be difficult for us to say “no” to friends and family, but it is especially important to avoid additional stress from tasks that fall outside of your skillset and responsibilities. You don’t have to a hero; saying “no” doesn’t make you lazy or neglectful. Sometimes, the most noble thing you can do is just to say “no,” and here’s how to do it:
- Say, “Wait.” You don’t have to say yes or no. Simply explain that you would be happy to, but you don’t have the capacity at the moment to take on the task. Give your colleague a time when he or she should come back and ask again. This option allows you to be upfront and honest about your workload, and shows that you’re still willing and wanting to help in the future. Now, your colleague can either come back to you at a later date, or seek out an alternative option.
- Say, “It’s not my skillset.” Remind your colleague of the assignments that you’re currently working on and explain that the task that they have to come to you with doesn’t really fall within your skillset. Suggest someone who is better equipped to handle their request or direct them to a better resource.
- “Yes but…” Invite your colleague into this conditional statement. Rather than saying no, set up a conditional statement to explain the terms in which you can complete the task. Yes, you’d be happy to help them with their request, but you need their help finishing another task in order to be able to fit it into your schedule. Setting up a conditional allows the colleague to make the yes/no decision. The conditional could be the decisive factor he/she needs to go another direction.
Be empathetic and show that you truly care about your colleague’s request, but be transparent and gently explain your reasoning. Remember, an early “no,” is often better than a later, “I can’t finish this.”