A few days ago, I had a conversation with a senior project manager who’d called me to get help with her work-life balance.
“Sometimes I find it really difficult to say ‘no’ because I then feel guilty and that I’m letting my manager down“.
I knew exactly what she meant. However what I have learned is that to get a work-life balance that works, it’s important to create healthy boundaries between work and family life. And sometimes that means saying ‘No’ …. even though that might feel really hard.
“Let’s put our heads together and come up with some strategies to help you say ‘No’ in the office, without feeling guilty and without you feeling like you’re letting your manager down.“
1 – The benefits of saying ‘No’ at work
There are lots of good reasons for saying ‘No’ at work.
For example saying ‘No’ at work can mean you go home on time. You don’t burn out from working long hours. You don’t overcommit yourself (or your team) and then under deliver.
The quality of your work is not compromised. You make better decisions because you’re not feeling overwhelmed. You have more focus. More creativity. More productivity. And you make better decisions.
Importantly you have a better work-life balance when you say ‘No’ and create healthy boundaries.
2 – Ditch the guilt
Let’s tackle the guilt. Women are SO good at feeling guilty when we haven’t done anything wrong.
So often when we talk about guilt, we see it as something negative. Let’s turn that perception on its head and use guilt positively. Recognise that guilt has a purpose and use it as a catalyst for change.
We feel guilty when we believe that we are doing (or saying) something wrong. Feeling guilty doesn’t make you guilty. Guilt is internal. It’s your personal reaction. It’s your perception. It might not be the reality or the truth for others. Feeling guilty doesn’t mean that you ARE doing something wrong. Just that you feel bad about it.
Ask yourself … if you feel guilty about saying ‘No’, is there something you can do differently, or stop doing or start doing instead?
If it is not something that you can change, ditch the guilt.
3 – Don’t apologise
You don’t need to apologise for saying ‘No’. You don’t even need to give a reason or a justification … though if it’s your boss asking you to fit in another project or attend another meeting, you need to have a conversation.
If you have been asked to attend a meeting at 4pm on Thursday afternoon and you usually work from home on Thursdays, simply explain “I’m not available in the office on Thursday afternoon. How about Friday morning at 10am or Monday afternoon at 2pm?”
If the alternatives don’t work, can you dial in to the meeting? Can you use Skype? Or Webex? Can you submit your comments and questions in advance?
4 – Put the ball in her court
If your boss has asked you to put together an urgent proposal and you’re already up to your eyes with work, put the ball in her court.
“I’d love to get involved on this proposal however I am already committed to the ABC project and the deadline is Friday. Which would you prefer me to focus on?”
Maybe her priorities have changed. Maybe she’s forgotten you’re already working on the ABC project. Maybe she’s getting pressure from her boss.
Whatever the reason, let her make the decision about which is the more important project to focus on.
5 – Offer an alternative
Your boss tells you she’s nominated you to be the lead on the digital transformation project. IT really isn’t your thing but you’re flattered to be asked.
You don’t want to say ‘No’ because you know it’s an important project but you also know there are others in your team who’d jump at the chance. This could be a win-win situation.
Offer an alternative solution.
“Thanks so much for thinking of me. That sounds like a great project. Sarah in my team is just brilliant at all things digital and I’d love to give her the opportunity to prove her worth. How about if Sarah takes the lead and she keeps us both updated on how the project will affect our department”.
Finally, you don’t want to get a reputation for always saying ‘No’ because that might suggest that you’re inflexible and not a team player. Which is why it’s important to have strategies to say ‘No’ without feeling guilty and without feeling like you’re letting everybody down.
What strategies have you tried that work when you want to say ‘No’?