Learn to say no even if your job is to say yes

By Margaret Steen, InfoWorld |  Career

WHEN YOUR JOB IS to help other people with their IT needs and be responsive to
your company's users, it sometimes can feel like you can't turn down user requests. But
Odette Pollar, founder of the Oakland, Calif.-based training company Time Management
Systems, says saying no can be as important a part of your job as saying yes. She
explains why it's crucial to say no to some requests -- and offers tips on how to do it
without damaging relationships.

Why is it important to say no sometimes?

Every time you say yes to a new item, you say no to your own priorities or to a
previous commitment to which you had said yes. What often happens is that people make
all these commitments and then there's a new opportunity and they say yes again.

A current yes often means that you must now say no to a prior yes. Then you're
trapped. You can become known as somebody who doesn't keep their word or is always
behind.

How can you say no if your job is to help people?

In the customer service field, you don't want to say no. You want to be helpful.
The challenge is: You have to balance responsiveness with work generation. If you say
yes to everything, it means you never have any time to do the work that these people
are calling about. It's not that you're never available or that you're always
available -- those are extremes. You have to be flexible.

If you have a new request and a prior commitment, how do you decide which one
to honor?

If it's not just your schedule, then it's a priority decision or a mission
decision. The mission of your department or division is to do X, and the priority that
wins is one that's closest to meeting your goal.

Sometimes it's based on relationships. You can sometimes put off a longtime client
with whom you have built up points. Just be cautious that you don't injure the long-
term relationship.

If you weigh someone's new request against the project you're already working
on and realize you can't say yes to the new request, how do you say no?

There's a four-step process for saying no:

1. Listen to the request.

2. Say no immediately. One problem with not saying no immediately is if you start
justifying, then you get into this 45-minute conversation when you could have done the
thing in 20 minutes.

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