For many of us, we don’t like to say No to people. We want to be open and accommodating, easy to work with, and ultimately to avoid conflict. Yet, we all are confronted with situations where saying No is the appropriate answer.

In this post, I want to address how we can say something affirmative even when we are saying No in the situation. 

Standing Up For Your Contributions

Let’s first look at a couple of situations.

The first let’s call: “The Please Take Over My Responsibility For Me.”

You are on a team. The team leader sees his role as passing off the work that is his responsibility to other members of the team.  Everyone knows that he’ll get the credit. No one is really happy about this situation. How then do you say No instead of “go along to get along?”

If you feel that you do not have a choice, that you must do what he asked you to do, then you keep a record of what you do, and you submit it to the team leader so that there is a record of the work you’ve done. If you are in reality responsible for the work, then let the record show this.

If this team is essentially a group of equals, and the designated leader is passing the leader’s responsibilities off to others, then it may be in that person’s best interest to transfer the team leader role to someone. By stating up front, “If you want me to do your work, then transfer the actual responsibility to me. I’m prepared to fulfill that obligation.”

In both situations, standing up for your contributions to the team is a way of affirming your role on the team. In so doing, you are also sending a signal that you have established boundaries concerning how you cooperate with people at work.

A more difficult situation of the “Take my responsibilities, please!” kind is one told to me about the assistant to a department head of the local operation of a national organization. The department head took a new position with the company in another city. Instead of filling her vacant position with a new hire, her responsibilities passed to her assistant, without consideration for added compensation or change in title.

As told to me, the assistant wasn’t interested in becoming the department head. She liked her current job because it gave her flexibility in taking care of her family. Unsure she would be allowed to make a lateral move within the company, the assistant felt she couldn’t say No.

How could she have said No so that it would be a Yes to her family situation?

She needs to take charge of the situation by designing an approach to meeting the responsibilities that she had been given. She needs to negotiate the terms of this extra work as a temporary, interim situation which includes some consideration for compensation and assistance in the office. In addition, she needs to realize that the position that she has been placed may result in her leaving the company.

As a result, she begins by updating her resume and cataloging her network of relationships in the community who will keep an ear open for opportunities that may lead to a new position.

In this case, her No is to say, “I’ll only do this for a short period of time. At the end of that time, I’d like to be considered for a new position within the company.”

Saying Yes To Ourselves

The second kind of situation is one where we feel compromised when asked to keep certain information confidential. This circumstance is especially true when the information is personal and between friends. Basically, our friend asks us to lie on their behalf.

The conflict here is between being loyal to our friend and being faithful to our values. The emotional conflict is really between being a part of a circle of relationships and standing apart as a person of integrity.

Here’s how I’ve handled this kind of situation.

I will tell my friend that my integrity is worth more to me than our friendship. I will not lie on his behalf. If asked, I will say what I know, but what I know is hearsay, so I can’t say what is true and what is not.

Does this put my friend in jeopardy? Quite possibly.

However, if I am being asked to hold certain information as confidential and that I am to lie if asked about it, then it is my friend who has placed himself in jeopardy.

These situations where we need to say No to someone or our organization as a way of saying Yes to ourselves are tests of our values. If we are unclear about our values, then we can be easily talked into doing things that are not in our best interest.

Learning To See Your Yes

I once heard a definition of diplomacy as being able to tell someone their feet stink and they thank us for the compliment. I believe being able to make our no a yes is a form of diplomacy where our values provide us a foundation for decision making that relieves us of the pain of unhealthy compromise and social disappointment.

For this reason, it is important that we are able to state what our core values are. These values are the bedrock, the foundation, for how we live through the Circle of Impact. Our values are not meant to have an emotional resonance primarily, but instead, provide us with a guide to how we behave in all aspects of our lives.

If you are unsure of what your core values are, then think of two situations that you have experienced over the past few months.

For one, think about a situation where you felt proud of how you conducted yourself. In the second situation, think about a time when you felt yourself being placed in a compromising situation.

Somewhere between those two experiences is a value that helped you preserve your sense of well-being. Take that value and begin to think about how it can be a yes in the context of a situation where you need to say no. Write that value on a card and carry it with you. Look at it at every free moment. As you do, ask what does this value look like in practice, right now, in this situation?

Over time, as you begin to learn to see your Yes.  You will identify other values that help guide you through situations where you need to say No. Your confidence will grow. Your impact will spread. And people will find that you are a person whom they can trust.

Once you have become clear about your values – even if you have only identified one or two – share those values with people. Create a story about how those values are important to you.

Then – when placed in a situation where you need to say No – you will have the language and the confidence to say Yes to your values and No to the compromise that would empty those values of meaning.

Dr. Ed Brenegar is a Leader for Leaders working with individuals, their teams, organizations and communities who find themselves at a point of transition. Ed has developed an innovative leadership model called, Circle of Impact, that clarifies what the impact of their life or the work of their organization can be. From this perspective, impact is the change that makes a difference that matters. Ed. for over 30 years, has inspired and equipped people and organizations to practice this fresh understanding of leadership. All leadership begins with personal initiative to create impact that makes a difference that matters. Everyone within an organization or a community can, therefore, practice leadership initiative. In so doing, they turn what were once leadership-starved organizations into leader-rich cultures that make a difference that matters.

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