“The art of leadership is saying no, not yes. It is very easy to say yes”- Tony Blair   As human beings we are hardwired to say “Yes” to each and everything that comes in our way. In a work environment, saying “No” can be hard but we really need to understand the importance of saying No at the right time, in the right way, for the right reasons and how it can help improve one’s productivity at work.   Here is my take on this. Please share your views in the comments section.

The modern workplace and work demands are moving at lightning speed and the fun fact is that we all get only 24 hours a day to match up to this.

Being productive at work is no rocket science but it requires serious hardwork and excellent time management skills. Especially after this COVID situation, as everything turned digital, it is very normal to hear from employees about feeling stressed and unproductive at the end of the day. In fact it is happening with the most productive and skilled professionals.

So let’s try to understand where are we going wrong? What’s the actual pain point? The answer to all of these questions is a single word “No”, yes you need to stop saying“Yes” to each and everything.

A very common scenario: You are up to ears in your assignments/tasks and your manager or colleague comes up with a new task or request and asks you for the assistance, and you will hear yourself saying a Yes immediately knowing very well that you are already packed. And that’s where your entire schedule goes haywire.

There are various reasons behind us fearing to saying No, because we don’t want to come across as non-cooperative, non-responsive, lazy or unprofessional. We’re social creatures that crave approval, and saying no feels like the easiest way to get on someone’s bad side. Also in a work environment, saying no can feel like you’re sabotaging someone else’s hard work.

But we really need to understand the importance of saying No at the right time, in the right way and obviously for the right reasons and how it can help improve one’s productivity at work.

Strategies to increase productivity in the workplace by saying NO

1. Say no to the idea of perfection

As human beings it is in our nature to chase perfection in everything we do. But we usually forget that nobody is perfect and one doesn’t even need to be.

Instead of chasing perfection one should focus on efficacy in each and every task we do. For instance, you have a presentation to submit in an hour, and even though you have revised it multiple times you still feel the need to read it one more time. You’re stressed and want to be on time, yet you want the presentation to be perfect. So, instead of submitting your presentation on time, you miss the deadline. Now not only are you stressed, you might have disappointed your manager/client as well.

Knowing when good enough is good enough, so you quit chasing perfectionand focus on efficacy, you will see results.

2. Clean up the digital clutter and Say No to the digital mess

We all like our workplaces to be clean but are we cleaning the digital office regularly? No, unread emails, spam messages, irrelevant email blasts, heavy unessential files, all of these things create unnecessary stress and distract you from focusing on important things.

Try clearing this digital clutter once in aweek, this will surely result in lower anxiety and higher productivity.

3. Say no to the unproductive/irrelevant meetings

How many times you find yourself stuck in a meeting and complaining about each minute getting wasted? If your answer is very often,that’s where you need to pause and look for a solution.

Arrange your meetings in a manner that it is beneficial and relevant for every participant. If you have the chance and option to opt out from a meeting which is not useful or relevant for you, do not shy away from speaking up and discussing this with your manager.

4. Be honest

Be honest to yourself and your work; don’t use this for your interest or benefits. Don’t make fake excuses.If the reason you are saying no is because you are being asked to do something you are bad at, admit it.If you are saying no because you are swamped or trying to preserve your work-life balance, say so and say what you are doing instead.

5. Be clear and support your approach with data

A “No” now is better than a “No” later.“Instead of saying ‘Yes’ now and disappointing the person later when you fail to fulfill the request, say ‘No’ now.

If you know that you really don’t have the bandwidth to help and hence you need to turn down the request, be honest and share your genuine reasons. Describe your workload and the projects on your plate.Support your ‘No’ with valid data and facts so that others can respect your decision. Letting people down at a later stage can damage your credibility.

6. Say no to unwanted interruptions

If you really want to be productive at your workplace, you will need to limit your distractions. Random chit chat sessions, multiple coffee breaks are small things which if not monitored effectively can impact productivity. In work from home scenarios, setting boundaries with people at home for ‘no interruptions’ during productive hours for mundane tasks will help improve productivity. Say yes to breaks, but be cautious of the frequency and the timings.

7. Be polite and offer a lifeline

While saying no is important, it must be delivered in an effective way for the other person to perceive and receive it well. Being watchful of your body language and tone is important to appear supportive even when you may be refusing the other person.

For refusing or not accepting something, you don’t need to be ruthless. Least you can do is to be polite and offer an alternative if you are not available. Soften your No, even the way you say this will have a great effect on the other person.

For example instead of saying “No, I will not be able to this” if you will convey it like “I really wish I could help but my bandwidth doesn’t allow this for now”, the whole feel of the conversation changes in a positive manner.

Frameworks for saying NO effectively

1. DOC Framework

D: Distraction: Next time you are faced with such a situation, first of all check if the request would be a distraction from your on- the plate tasks. Ask yourself whether the request might be a complement to tasks you’re already doing or a complete detour into another initiative.

O: Objectives: Ask yourself if the new request could fit into one of your objectives. If so, it might be worth taking on, even if it is a potential distraction from the day-to-day activities. If it doesn’t fit with an objective, give it the axe.

C: Consider the upside: If the request doesn’t fit an objective, is there another potential upside for doing it? Perhaps you are looking to transition to new responsibilities, and this new task will help demonstrate your capabilities.

2. BEST Framework

B: Because-Putting because after the No and validating it with facts and data.

E: Empathy- Show empathy. Convey your message softly and help with an alternative if you can.

S: Situation- Describe your situation, explain with genuine reasons.

T: Add timelines- Elaborate about your ongoing demands and the timelines for that.

As humans, we are hardwired to say yes to things. When there is a power dynamic involved, we are even more inclined to agree first and then think about it later.There’s nothing wrong with putting others first and helping those you care about when they need it. The problem comes when you say yes so often that it affects your own productivity.

When you say no, it shows that you understand your priorities and what’s important to you. Say it for the right reasons and in the right way, you’ll be much better off!