How to Say “No” with a “Yes”
If you’re like me, you love to please. You embrace positive messages. You want access versus obstacles. And, in return, that often means you like to say yes to everything. Someone needs your time? Yes! Someone wants your opinion? Yes! Someone wants you to be a guest at an event? Yes, yes, yes! It’s great to feel wanted and needed. But that also leads to a very busy schedule. Before you know it, you’re overwhelmed and free time has become one of the most costly things to find.
Nobody can put more than 24 hours in a day. But everyone can make the most of a smart schedule.
If you’re in upper management, you can easily spend 50% of your day in meetings. That means hours of valuable time every day that you cannot get back. Plus, you can leave meetings with assignments that equal more work and even less time to do it. However, what if you go to a meeting that didn’t require your attendance? Or, what if someone else could have gone in your place? In fact, what if someone else was an even better candidate for the occasion?
The idea isn’t just to minimize unnecessary commitments. It also translates into putting time and energy into the things that need your attention the most. But how do you do that without alienating others by turning down all the wonderful requests? In short, how do you say “no” by still saying “yes” to some degree?
There is a fine art to giving consideration without a personal commitment. There’s a way that delivers on the desire without the individual demand. I call it saying “yes” with a referral.
When you learn to say “yes” with a referral, everybody wins.
I’m not so important that only I can accept an invitation to speak, to meet, or to appear somewhere. But I do consider myself overwhelming blessed to have wonderful colleagues who are equally capable and often better than I am for many situations. That’s when I am happy to say yes, in a way, to many requests by suggesting the perfect person to ask in my place.
A perfect example was this September. I had been asked to give a keynote speech on values in business for the Global Material Security organization of the Department of Energy’s Nuclear Non-Proliferation Security Agency in Washington, DC. When a family member was unexpectedly scheduled for surgery at the same time, I knew my priorities needed to be at home. But I was still able to refer Mary Thompson, COO of Dwyer Group, to deliver a speech on the same topic for the group. And she did!
Schedule important time with family just like you would with business.
I learned how to balance a hectic schedule the hard way. There was a time when my kids were young and in school and I served on the board at both schools, I was involved in other school projects and I was also helping with fundraisers. This was on top of commitments at work. I quickly realized that I couldn’t keep saying yes. I couldn’t keep assuming more responsibilities and still have critical time for myself and my family. I asked an important question: How can I still be a giver without taking away from my family and other obligations?
That’s when I saw that I can almost always make a contribution by referring someone when I cannot accept an invitation myself. Whatever the ask, I know so many wonderful people who deserve the opportunity to shine and in some cases step out of their comfort zone and grow. That has worked in business, community involvement, philanthropy, even social gatherings. You name it. If my schedule cannot accommodate something when I have the good fortune to be asked, I can usually think of the perfect person to suggest.
And by the way, they shouldn’t feel the need to say “yes.” Maybe they can refer someone.