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My time is precious. So is my team’s.

We work hard to focus on the right things.

This week I have invested two days spending time with fellow communication leaders at the IABC EMENAComm. It was convenient travelling back from Dubai, to stop and recharge my batteries while spending time with old and new friends.

Today at lunch, I had a long chat with Laila -a young  marketing director-who is being pulled in different directions and needs to set boundaries. Now, I am listening to the fascinating story by Hanisha Lalwani. Her courageous story has inspired me.

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I know how that feels. As the Communications Function, we are strategic advisers and get a lot of requests to help others. Marua Kobayashi, our COO, is frequently popping by wanting advice or support for her latest initiative.

It’s often a pleasure to help her but sometimes we need to keep control of our own agenda, and not be completely beholden to other people’s needs.  Which leads to the big challenge:

How do you say ‘no’ without annoying your customer or stakeholder (internal or external)? How do you manage your time effectively so that you are focusing on the right things, at the right time, for the right result?

Here is my menu of tips for saying no to people so that you can keep control of your agenda. These tactics sometimes work for me. I don’t use all of them in all situations. You will like some better than others, so feel free to pick and choose.

I leave you with the appetisers and the main course, and will go back to my session. The desserts will come tomorrow.

Appetizers

They are little things which are easy to do and generally won’t get you into trouble.

  • Disappear. People can’t interrupt you if they can’t find you. Find a quiet room somewhere. Lock yourself away. Turn off email. Do what you need to do and then re-engage.
  • Delay. Say “yes, but not now”. You are the middle of something. You are about to have meeting. You have a phone call you need to make in five minutes. You are travelling. “Of course I will do it for you, but it will have to be later / tomorrow / next week, etc.” Remember the old maxim: “a lack of planning on their part does not constitute an emergency on your part”.
  • Direct. Point them in the direction of the intranet or wherever so they can self-serve the information they need. Send them a link. Or send them to a colleague who is better placed than you to deal with the issue. (This works especially well for me when I am travelling.)
  • Deal. They want something from you. Ask for something in return or give them a little obstacle to overcome. “Absolutely, I would love to help you. Have a look in my diary and find a free space so we can give proper attention to this. Send me an invite and arrange a time to come to my office.”

Main courses

These are slightly more complex items which move slightly beyond the immediate tactical request and your instant response.

  • Stakeholder analysis. How important is this request or this person to you? Do you have lots of reputation points in the bank with them already, or do you need to strengthen the relationship?
  • Say yes, but with conditions or discussion. Can you get more resources? Can you delay another request from them? “I’d love to help, but I’m just doing something for X. Can you negotiate with her on which of your two requests is more critical and I’ll prioritise accordingly? Can you do the task in a simpler, quicker way?”
  • Strategy connection. Ask questions about the business need, which elements of our strategy this supports, what is the wider context. Why is this request important?
  • SPIN. This stands for “Situation, Problem, Implication, Need.” What is the situation or context? What’s the problem they are trying to solve? What’s the implication of the problem and what is the need? This is a sales technique which enables you to open up the conversation and explore the underlying need… and maybe, find a simpler solution that saves you time, energy and resources.
  • Simplify. “Yes, of course, I can give you a quick short reply now or a more detailed thought through analysis later. Which would you prefer?”

Desserts are more controversial so I will share them with you as part 2 of this menu (you can follow me here if you wan to be sure not to miss it).

Those are my tips, my menu, but what are your tips for saying no and managing your time? Are they appetizers, main courses, or desserts?

As Hanisha invites us to do: ‘says yes to talk about saying no’.

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