Anyone who is in any aspect of business, whether it’s operations, IT, finance, or any other field, knows that hard work is highly valued. We obtain bragging rights for the number of hours we have worked this week, not the amount of time we saved ourselves by finding a more efficient method of performing a job function. We stand around the water cooler, half-complaining, half-gloating about how tough our jobs have become. And in many instances, we’re right: our jobs have become tough. Particularly for people who have some amount of earnestness behind their braggadocio, there is a distinct habit of refusing to admit that human being have limits. Saying “no” feels like a sign of weakness or laziness, while saying “yes” might cause you actual, physical distress at the thought of taking on yet another task.
Here’s the problem with saying yes, though: eventually, something is going to give, and your “yes” is going to come back to haunt you in the form of a missed deadline and disappointed bosses or clients. When you over-promise and under-deliver, it is often much, much worse than if you simply admit that you cannot make the deadline and complete the function within the timeframe provided.
To understand why that is, consider the ripple effect of your “yes” using a concrete example: if you tell your boss that you can have the entire SAP system implemented within two weeks, knowing you actually probably need closer to a full month or more, your boss goes to your client and tells them when it will be done. Your client, in return, makes plans with their clients, employees, and vendors in preparation of that implementation. These plans would not be possible without SAP, so their future revenue cycles, client management practices, and business processes would be halted if the SAP system isn’t in place as promised.
You miss the deadline. Now what? Your client is upset. Their clients are upset. Their employees can’t start working again until the SAP system is implemented. They are losing thousands of dollars waiting on you, and you, if you’re human, feel terrible.
All of this could have been avoided by doing one thing: saying “no.”
Consider the consequences of saying no: the client may be disappointed, but they would not hinge their hopes on your dishonest evaluation of the situation. Their own deadlines can be pushed back as needed without this looming, unrealistic timeframe hanging over their heads and yours. By being honest, you could save them thousands of dollars, and yourself a great deal of stress.
Honesty will win most of the time; setting realistic expectations and timelines will keep you out of trouble and keep your bosses and clients satisfied. But, what about the few times in your life when being honest will cost you that big account? A client comes to you wanting a job done, and wanting it done fast. You know it can’t be done – even if you operated at full capacity for the timeframe specified, it simply wouldn’t be possible. The client disregards your recommendations and warnings and decides to take their business elsewhere.
This kind of behavior can be discouraging and could deter you from being honest in the future. This is understandable – you have expenses to pay and revenue to generate. But you should not let this minority of clients discourage you from being honest for the sake of making some quick cash. Keep in mind that, many times, they will go to another company that promises them the world, only to find that you were right to begin with. Sometimes, you will even get that conciliatory phone call: “XYZ Company said they could do it. You were right: they couldn’t. Can we hire you to fix the mess they made?”
Besides avoiding the domino effect of giving a false “yes”, being able to say “no” has other advantages. If you have built up a reputation as being a capable and competent worker who does not slack off, your “no” has an effect. People will re-evaluate their expectations and give you the benefit of the doubt: if you say it cannot be done, then perhaps that is an opinion worth listening to. You have established your credibility, and your answer is reliable. When you say “yes,” then, it carries that much more weight.
A hurdle that you will likely need to overcome in your quest to say no is wanting to avoid disappointing people. When you feel guilty saying no because you know someone truly wants something completed but you are unable to take on the task, you may succumb to being guilt-tripped into saying yes. You should try to avoid this situation as much as possible; remember the scenario with the domino effect of the errant “yes.” Feeling guilty about saying no is a much shorter-lived guilt than the sometimes disastrous effect of a misplaced “yes.”
* Image courtesy of Eamon Curry via Creative Commons