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A Two-Letter Word That's So Hard to Say

If, like me, you run your own business, you'll know how easy it is to take on jobs that are not really yours and that you don't have time to do.

We do it because (a) we believe we should; (b) we believe it will make others grateful; and (c) because we believe we are helping. In fact, the real reason may be none of these. We may just be unable to say that 2-letter word, "No".

Over the years, my inability to say "No" has landed me in frequent hot water: jobs that I promise to do straightaway, jobs that were far too big for me to do alone; and jobs that weren't any of my responsibility in the first place.

So, over the years, I've developed 3 preliminary rules to remind me that I really should be more assertive when responding to requests. These rules are:

1. checking whether it's really something I'm contractually obliged to do. If it's not, I think twice.
2. thinking through whether I really want to do it, or whether I'm just being nice to the other person.
3. working out whose problem it is and if it's there's not mine, believing it is better for all concerned if they work it out for themselves.

Having done this, and believing that I am entitled to say "No", I then employ a range of stock responses which include:

1. "I just don't have any room in my diary right now."
2. "I'm in the middle of several projects and can't spare the time."
3. "I've had a few things come up and I need to deal with those first."
4. "I'd rather say No than only give it half my attention."
5. "I'm really focusing on other things right now."
6. "I don't have any experience with that sort of work."
7. "I'm really not the best person to do it."

I've also recently adopted the Covey technique of saying "No". This comes from Stephen Covey who in his book "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People", tells a story of trying to off-load some work onto a busy colleague. The colleague gently took Stephen to a wallchart on which were listed her current projects.

"Stephen," she said, "I'll do whatever you want me to do, but tell me. Which of these projects would you like me to delay or cancel?"

Stephen smiled and decided he didn't want the responsibility of interfering with his colleague's workload and went off to find a less accomplished and less assertive manager to do his work instead.

I like that. Confident. No nonsense. Kind.

I still have relapses with saying "No" and I'm still learning. And, if I still can't remember my 3 rules, my one-liners, and the Covey technique, I've one last trick up my sleeve.

I just tell them that I'm learning to be assertive with my time management and would they mind terribly much if on this occasion, for just this once, I said "No".