“No” – this word may be small but it is mighty. It is only 2 letters, yet it can be one of the most difficult words to say aloud. We are raised to be people pleasers and as humans, we have an innate desire for people to like us. This leads us to say “yes” to people when often the best answer is a simple “no."
At work, employees are expected to complete tasks assigned and to move the goals and mission of the company forward. They are expected to be “Yes” people and to positively and diligently work on the current objectives. Most team players want to be helpful and contribute to the overall goal and saying “yes” seems natural.
As a manager, my job is to promote the mission of the organization by hiring the right people with the right skills and effectively supervising their work. I consider myself a pretty good manager who values people’s skills and helps them effectively handle projects. I believe in good communication and an open-door policy. However, I recently realized that I didn’t understand the full power of “No” and how as an effective manager, I need to empower my team to use that simple word more. I have learned that team members who chronically say “yes” can feel overwhelmed, overworked, and underappreciated.
There is a smart balance of “yes” and “no” that every organization, team, and individual must find. Companies that are most successful stick to their mission and don’t try to be all things to all people. Likewise, individuals need to stick to their greatest strengths and work within deadlines and priorities to be most effective. As a leader in my business, I need to help team members learn when to say “no."
When determining what should be considered a “yes” or “no," take all factors into account:
Is the request critical to the mission of the company and the annual goals?
Is the deadline possible while also fulfilling the current duties?
If the new request becomes a top priority, are the other responsibilities able to be reprioritized or reassigned?
Will the new assignment provide a learning opportunity to the individual?
Who in the company is the best fit for this assignment?
Who has the most time available to do the best job?
Is this the most effective use of time, resources, and skills?
Open communication and transparency between a manager and employee is necessary to achieve the correct balance. Unfortunately, work is still work and we all must do things we don’t always love to do, but that we must do because it is part of our job. However, if one says “yes” to everything, then they may never do anything to the best of their ability. Honesty to oneself and to the team is necessary. Managers need to be careful to not always assign new projects to the people who say “yes” the most often. They need to look at the whole team and review all the work and deadlines. The manager needs to manage the plan and help reassign so that all priorities are achieved.
Remember there is always a third option, “Yes, but not right now.” This response is often a welcome response. It affirms that the job will be handled and sets the expectations. Next steps are to set a deadline, communicate along the way, and complete on time. As for myself, I plan to ask more probing questions of my team and give them the space to say “no” if that is best. I will respect the power of “no."
Lee Yarborough and her father, Braxton Cutchin, founded the company in 1996. She has served on the Board of Directors of NAPEO and currently serves as the Chair for the NAPEO Carolinas Leadership Council. In 2015, she was named a Fellow of the eleventh class of the Liberty Fellowship Program and a member of the Aspen Global Leadership Network. Lee also serves on the Executive Board of Public Education Partners and is the founder and director of Read Up Greenville, a young adult and middle grades book festival in downtown Greenville, SC.