Thursday, 10 May 2018

Just Say No. Maybe.

I'm currently working with a group of senior managers in a global business, plus a few private coaching clients, who seem to be facing the same issue - not having enough time to do all the things they need to do.
Time is a strange commodity. We treat it as if it's a real asset, something that we can touch and own and protect, and which we can give or sell to others. However, time is a perception, and therefore the passage of and value of time is subjective.

My clients tell me that they are too busy, that they have trouble prioritising, that they rush to complete tasks, that they work reactively, and that the person who always suffers from this is themselves.

Fundamentally, they see other people's deadlines as fixed, and their own personal time as flexible. So they give, and give, and give, until there is nothing left to give.

They think that they get a pay-off from saying 'yes' to everything that comes their way. They think that they are thought more highly of, that they will have better prospects for promotion, that their clients will see them as responsive and dynamic.

Here's the funny thing. If you show what a great job you're doing by taking on more, and more, and more work, and you get a promotion on that basis, what do you think your promotion will entail? 

More work!

You know what you want to do - you want to say no. You want to push back on the endless torrent of demands on your time. You want space to breathe - maybe even a day off. Maybe even a holiday. But instead, you put the kids to bed and get your laptop out, and when your phone pings with an email at midnight, you take a quick look, and your family go down to the beach while you join just a quick conference call.

The problem is that you don't like to say 'no', because you're worried that people might think you're unhelpful, or that you're not committed.

Worse than that, that's not even true. The truth is that you create this situation, you create this dependency because the constant stream of requests for your valuable expertise and opinion makes you feel needed, even valuable. Or at least, it did when the level was manageable. Now it's just getting out of hand.

What's the solution? You can't say yes, because that piles more pressure on you. You can't say no because what would people think of you.

There is an alternative, and it's something that I came up with about 15 years ago, and I've been teaching it to my coaching clients ever since with results that even in the past month they have described as "amazing".

You'll probably laugh, or kick yourself, when you find out how easy it is.

The fundamental problem is that in order to feel valuable, you give your time away freely. However, if your time actually was valuable, you wouldn't give it away. You would trade it for something of equal value. This process of trading value in order to achieve a mutually agreeable outcome is called, of course, negotiation.

How do we start any negotiation? With the word 'if'. If I do this for you, will you do that for me? If I give you this, will you give me that in return? If I introduce you to three other people, will you reduce the price? That kind of thing.

Usually, people are very bad at negotiating because they think it's the same as haggling, which it isn't. Haggling is only about price, and it usually involves someone giving away profit for nothing in return. It's what you do in souvenir markets on holiday where the seller has inflated the price in anticipation of you haggling.

Negotiation means that you consider all the variables which are under your control, and you include all of them in the negotiation. Fundamentally, negotiating is based on the belief that everything you're trading has value.

Here's how simple this is to implement in your everyday working life:

Demanding colleague: "Hey, how are you? Can you take on this extra work for me?"

You: "Yes, if you can either speak with my boss first to clear the time it will take, or help me out by doing some preparation work."

You will now hear one of two general responses.

Demanding colleague: "OK, no problem, I'll help you with that."


Demanding colleague: "Erm... don't worry, I'll do it myself"

Either way, your reputation as an awesome, helpful team player is intact, because your first word was 'yes', and your workload is reduced because either your commitment is now realistic, or you don't have to take the work on. It's a win-win for you.

Here are some things that you can negotiate from the person making the request:

  • They do some of the work themselves
  • They get your boss to free up some of your time by removing other tasks
  • They find other resources to help you
  • They get someone else to do the whole thing, or do it themselves
  • They do something for you in return
  • They bring you pizza/chocolates/wine/etc as payment in kind
  • They extend their timescales
  • They reduce the scope of their request
  • They lower their expectations of quality
  • They reset their customers expectation in line with what you can deliver

What you will find, based on feedback from hundreds of people who have tested this method, is that by introducing the idea that your time and expertise has a cost, it becomes more valuable and the other person realises that they don't just get it for free. What you can also find is that the only reason they ever asked you before was not because you're the best person for the job, or they really valued your work, but because asking you was simply easier than doing it themselves, and as long as you never pushed back, they were happy to keep piling more work on you. That's hardly fair, is it?

Now that you're establishing a cost for your time, you have created value, and that is what makes you feel valued and valuable, and good about yourself.

Isn't that worth having?

Give it a try. Whenever someone asks you to do something for them, reply with, "Yes, if...."

Have fun!

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