Have you found yourself saying ‘Yes’ to something at work and as you said it you wished you had said ‘No’?
This sound familiar:
Coworker: “Hey Jezebel, we’re starting a new project team to [insert mindless crap you don’t want to do] and we need an extra person. I know you’re swamped, it’s last minute and a bit outside your work but we could really use the help.”
Jezebel: [yes, this is you] “Oh I don’t know, I’m really busy with a lot of other projects. I’m in over my head already.”
Coworker: “C’mon, we really could use your help. We don’t have any other options and we can’t do it without you. Plus, you’re good at running projects. I’ll buy you lunch too!”
Jezebel: [still you] “Ughhh, okay fine. Just let me know when we’ll start.”
Coworker: “Right now.”
Let’s be honest here – this has happened to all of us at one point or another, and I’ve been Jezebel on more occasions than I’d care to admit. So why do we have such a hard time saying no at work?
Here’s are the nine most common reasons why we say yes at work when no is what we’re screaming from the mountain tops, silently in our heads of course:
Saying yes when you really want to say no is indeed a problem. According to the Harvard Business Review many of us say yes to avoid conflict at the office. When we experience this it leaves us deflated, frustrated and stressed. It can also lead to resentment between coworkers and an unhealthy work environment. Sounds fantastic!
So how do we go about saying no while doing so professionally and politely?
Dr. Travis Bradley, author of the best-selling book ‘Emotional Intelligence 2.0’ and contributor for Forbes Magazine, summarizes the art of saying no beautifully in 5 steps:
When we say no our “ability to communicate ‘no’ really reflects you’re in the drivers seat of your own life. It gives you a sense of empowerment.” – Vanessa Patrick, Prof at University of Houston
In theory this sounds fantastic. It’s a new sense of self. We’re walking tall and not going to take crap from no one. We’re almost begging for an opportunity to show off our new ‘No’ skills. Before you go off dodging and ducking everything that comes your way at the office make sure you keep in mind two things before you consider a ‘No’:
If the answer to either of these questions is yes be sure to purposefully slow your decision making down and get introspective.
Making decisions about your career, involvement in work at the office, supporting your boss or other management and professional opportunities up for considered is no easy task. It’s rarely a black and white decision as moments like this love to play in the gray area. When you’re confronted with a tough decision and you feel like you want to say no quickly think about the two questions above, assess the situation then move forward with your answer. If ‘No’ is still the right choice be sure to follow Dr. Bradberry’s advice to ensure your no lands as best as possible with your audience.
Last week a friend and I had an interesting conversation over dinner having to do with hiring new grads from college. The two of us agreed that we have seen a rise over recent years with the number of people coming out of college ill-prepared for the working world. But why?
We discussed the disparity that exists with some new grads and their ability to actually put their years of scholastic achievement to work in the real world. Regardless of their GPA many of them struggle and it has employers concerned, especially in the engineering world.
This is where our conversation hit a crucial point and where the rubber meets the road for our recent college graduates: theory versus application.
In academia theory is served up on a silver platter. Students learn by lecture, book and lab. They learn the ideal setting and framework of hundreds of concepts. What they learn is ‘HOW’ something works, where it comes from and should you need to replicate it follow these guidelines, etc. Kind of like a recipe for baking a cake. Follow these instructions and the result will be a nice red velvet cake. My favorite!
Unfortunately what we get a lot of times after the supposed recipe has been followed by new grads is not red velvet cake at all. It’s a pile of crap that doesn’t remotely resemble a cake nor is it edible. Simply being able to follow a recipe, or recite a definition for that matter, does not mean you truly understand the concept which can be a really rude awakening for a newly hired recent graduate in the working world. Our recent engineering grads may be able to tell us the definition of Ohms Law, reciting it verbatim however they struggle to actually use that same theory in practice in the working world when it actually counts.
What academia fails to accomplish is teaching and engraining in its students heads the ‘WHY’ part of the recipe, not just the ‘How’. Learning the ‘WHY’ behind a concept provides us with a larger frame of understanding rather than just surface level information. This articulates the important difference between information and knowledge. (information = theory whereas knowledge = application) When we know why something exists we can better apply said concept to real world settings and or make suitable adjustments when things go array. The ‘WHY’ piece also addresses creativity. When we’re confronted with an issue or challenge in the working world there’s no professor or recipe to help keep us on track. No directions that say ‘substitute this for that if this happens’. One has to be able to draw on their creative juices AND theory to come up with possible solutions.
Why do recent grads struggle with applying their education in the workplace?
My humble opinion falls on two primary contributors:
Don’t worry employers. Fret not new grads, we can fix this challenge so that everyone comes out on top.
How can we change this to help our new grads?
What’s the mythical trait that allows people to be exceptional leaders? Don’t worry, it’s not as elusive as a unicorn or a four leaf clover. It’s something we all have to varying degrees, yet few understand it or have put time into developing it. Ever heard someone say, “she’s a great leader, she must have been born that way.” When we see or speak of leaders that have made an impact, that intangible piece we’re referring to actually has a name. In today's world in order for you to ‘unlock’ your leadership potential, or improve your leadership ability for that matter, the single best thing you can focus on developing is your Emotional Intelligence (EI). Emotional Intelligence is being self aware of your emotions, understanding them, and knowing how they affect those around you. This includes being able to see the emotions of others and what impacts they have on the individual and those around them.
EI isn’t the new kid on the block. Daniel Goleman first brought the term to light in the mid 90’s and applied it to business via a Harvard Business Review article in ’98. Since then it’s been talked about and studied like wild fire with plenty of studies concluded and replicated all pointing to the same results. What these studies tell us is those who have a higher than average EI index outperform their counterparts in leadership roles in almost all aspects than those who don’t have EI or very little of it.
I recently watched a video online which gave one of the best definitions and breakdowns of EI I’ve seen in recent memory. James Mankelow, CEO of Mindtools, shares this easy to follow breakdown of what makes up Emotional Intelligence:
DDI recently did their annual Global Leadership Forecast survey where they spoke with 15,000+ executives amongst 2,000+ companies. The 60 page report is chalk full of data, most of which points towards one central theme – there is a lack of confidence amongst existing leaders on who is going to take the torch for the next leg of the race. In fact, the executives that were surveyed in DDI’s report cited that 48% of the workforce doesn’t meet a ‘high-potential’ status, which would be necessary for leadership roles.
If that isn’t enough of a reason to spend time improving your EI take a look at what Deloitte published via their Business Confidence Survey: the majority of executives (52% in current roles and 59% in transition) identified one of the most troubling business issues they are faced with is that their direct reports don’t have the skills to take on elevated leadership roles.
However you want to cut it up there seems to be a gap between leadership opportunity and the ambition of the larger workforce to seize it. Sure you could blame all sorts of other factors for why that is but at the end of the day it seems as though people aren't stepping up like they used too. I like to fancy myself as an optimist, so choose to look at it this way – if we all have the ability to control our destiny (which I believe we do) and there’s now proof behind what can get us there (developing our EI), then it’s a matter of elbow grease and time before we arrive at our destination.
Leadership is an art form, the more you understand yourself and your EI, the better chances you’ll have at climbing the ladder to your golden perch while also helping those around and under you do the same.
About the Author
Travis Smith is the founder and managing director of Square-1 Engineering, a life sciences consulting firm, providing end to end technical project services to companies which design, develop and or manufacture products in Southern California. He successfully served the life sciences marketplace in SoCal for over 15 years specializing in engineering services, consulting, project outsourcing and leadership development. In 2019 he was recognized as a ‘40 Under 40’ honoree by the Greater Irvine Chamber of Commerce as a top leader in Orange County, CA.