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Coaches Diary: Learn to Say No

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The inability to say no left one of Olivia Stefanino's clients swamped with more work than she could hope to complete.


Judy had always enjoyed her reputation of being someone who was willing, capable and above all, reliable.

However, following promotion into her first senior management role, Judy was finding that she was not coping with the increased demands on her time and energy.

In fact, to her horror, she had missed a deadline for a project, resulting in a dressing down from her new line manager.

For someone who prided herself on not letting people down – coupled with her organisational ability – Judy was mortified at what had happened. She also had the wisdom to learn from the episode, determined that it would never happen again.

After discussing Judy’s values with her, it soon became clear that she equated saying “no” with being uncooperative. And because she set such high store on her reputation of being willing and capable, she couldn’t bear to fly in the face of her beliefs about herself.

However, Judy also had a big need to see herself as reliable – so our first task was to enable her to see the bigger picture of what was expected of her within her new role.

Prioritising and delegating tasks to those below her would help free up some time to enable her to carry out the projects that only she could do.

However, she also needed to learn to say “no” to unreasonable or impossible requests. Judy began to recognise that being honest at the outset about what could be achieved within a given time frame would mean that her reputation for reliability would remain in tact. Also, refusing to take on an impossible-to-achieve request would give others time to find an alternative solution.

Although Judy knew that it would be hard for her to say “no”, she understood that by offering a clear explanation – accompanied by a smile – she would earn the respect of her colleagues.

Suddenly a look of relief flickered across Judy’s face as she knew that she had found the right solution which would further enhance her reputation.

* Olivia Stefanino is a leadership development consultant and executive coach, who works with blue chip organisations, SMEs and individuals. Download your free e-booklet “128 ways to harness your personal power” at beyourownguru.com.

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