Saying no to a colleague who asks for our help can be very difficult for many of us. It is easy to judge yourself and think that we are being selfish and unhelpful when we choose to prioritize what we are currently doing before helping whoever is stuck and might need our help to continue working.
Shouldn’t we always support our colleagues? After all, we are working towards the same goals, aren’t we? Yes, but we also have tasks to complete which are equally important to the business and its progress.
So sometimes we simply need to say no. Or do we?
A more pleasant version of no
Well, fortunately there are nuances of no which can come in handy when we want to turn someone down gracefully and without hurting either ourselves or the person asking for assistance.
As you are busy working on something which is both urgent and important, a colleague asks you for help. If you feel that you would rather tell them no but also feel reluctant to do so, try saying one of these nuances of no instead:
- ”Sure, but could we do it at 2pm instead, when I have finished what I am in the middle of?”
- ”Absolutely — e‑mail me about the problem, and I will get on it as soon as I possibly can later today.”
- ”Yes, you can have it by Wednesday next week.”
- ”Sure, I can show you how to do it, and if you write a checklist or cheat-sheet as we go along, you will be able to solve it by yourself next time it happens.”
- ”Yes I can, but I can do it this way instead:” (and then present the method or way that would suit you better, for instance doing it in a way which would enable you to reuse something you already have or have done).
or, take a deep breath and say, even though you do not feel entirely comfortable doing so,
- ”I am sorry but no, I do not have time to help you right now.”
Watch what happens. Did your response result in a terrible reaction or were they fine with your answer? If you actually did say no as the last option above suggested, did the colleague find another way or person to help them solve the problem instead?
You, and only you, can set your own priorities
If you from time to time use one of these nuances of no it will be easier to stay on track with your own set of priorities both in the short- and long-run. You do not have to suffer the consequences of other people’s inability to remain structured, and will reach your goals faster since it is easier for you to get the tasks which help you attain them done. Perhaps this will even prove to be an opportunity for your colleague to learn that it is OK to say no sometimes, which might even be the best thing for them right now.
What is your way of solving this dilemma?
How do you say no to others with a clear conscience? I have described a handful of nuances, and I am sure that there are numerous other ways to say no in, perhaps even as many as fifty. Leave a comment and add another to the list.