The ‘how to say no’ menu: dessert

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Yesterday, inspired by a session at #EMENAcomm, I shared my tips on how to say no.

Once the conference ended, I was invited to dinner with some of the speakers. Over drinks and lovely Indian food at the Maharaja restaurant, the subject of saying no and negotiating your time came up again.

“There isn’t a team in the world that can take on all the work, all the time” Zanya, a brilliant agency owner from Belarus confessed, “So saying no is a skill few of us master in time.”

So these two articles are an attempt to share what I’ve learned and maybe sparking so culinary adventures in my readers.

Part 1 covered the beginning of a meal:

• appetisers which are simple and easy to use approaches,

and

• main courses, or slightly more robust sophisticated ways to say no.

They all respond to two questions:

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?

For those who want a bit extra, I’ve pulled together a couple of advanced tactics.

They come with a warning: Don’t eat too often from this part of the menu! These are more controversial and slightly riskier.

Give normal

This is a polite version of ‘computer says no’. It goes like this, “I know you have asked for X, but our system can only do it in this way. So this is the normal output. I wish I had time to produce a super customised report for you, but this standard format has all the info you need.”

Negotiate

Let them ask for the output but you define how it is to be generated. Produce the analysis in a way that is convenient for you. You can do this under the guise of ‘Normal’ above.

No

What happens if you just say ‘no”? Will we end up in court? Will our most valued employees leave? Will part of our organization fail to achieve its objectives? Will part of our strategy miss the mark? Will you get fired? Think about the consequences … you might be surprised at how small they are.

Neglect

Sometimes the problem will go away. I find this a lot with emails when I am on holiday or on a site visit. Sometimes, when I get back the issue has resolved itself, or the person managed without whatever it was that was oh-so urgent. Of course, this tactic doesn’t always work: sometimes they will come back and chase you … in which case you need to switch tactics (“so sorry I never got back to you! mea culpa”).

Like I said, these are more controversial so use them with care.

Remember to go back to your personal stakeholder map so you ensure you have enough reputation points in the bank to take a risky gamble.

And remember, practice makes perfect so try out these techniques in low-risk situations too. So you feel at ease with each course of the meal, and maybe you can even whip up a dessert of your own.

Simulations and role-playing are a perfect way to flex your negotiation muscles. When you play Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders, you get to put yourself in my shoes and learn how I say no to Buck, Isobel and Marua from time to time. So consider joining us for a game.

Do you have any other strategies? Please do share!

I’m all ears at @carmenspinoza11

The menu of how to say no, first course.

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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’.

A note from Hugh Mann: 2019 is the year of you

A guest post from Hugh Mann, HR Director

Dear Carmen,

Hugh Mann - HR DirectorJust a quick note from me, your HR director, to remind you that continuing professional development is important. Indeed, Isobel Ching, our CEO – has this as a priority for all of us. As she has set out:

  1. In-person matters more than ever.
  2. CEOs are not getting the data — or advice — they want.
  3. Practicing analytical thinking and complex problem solving is mission critical.

Here are some quick ideas focused on this for the year ahead. It is a mix of conferences – which can help you learn and connect with your peers –  as well as things you can do anytime (podcasts and blogs).

And on the latter note, as learning is best with others, you may also want to encourage others by sharing these:

1) In-person matters more than ever

There are lots of opportunities – these are just a few of them. Be sure to share any interesting ones you come across that are not mentioned below:

#EMENAcomm in Bahrain

Later in the spring – in Milan there’s an opportunity to explore agile practice…

And one of the year’s blockbuster opportunities: #IABC19

2) CEOs are not getting the data or advice they want

First of all, are you too distracted?

Are you clear about your role?

You might want to revisit this brief post on etymology in the boardroom from earlier.

Are you sure you’re really listening

3) Practicing analytical thinking and complex problem solving is more important than ever

Better understanding through slowing down

How to say no – an often overlooked skill in this domain

Analytical thinking is essential – but it can also equal cognitive overload and analysis paralysis. In HR we wish people wouldn’t forget that a skill like this is best maintained through regular, careful practice. I know you enjoyed the menu of how to say no – so I thought this discussion on the same topic might also be of interest.

Most important: test your ideas with others

(Banner graphic of PRSA Employee Communications Connect 19 Conference logo) And of course: regular sessions of Snakes & Ladders. You could for example come along to the pre-conference session we’re running for #PRSAConnect.

And as a warm-up, don’t forget we have a whole collection of interviews where your peers share what they’ve learnt playing the game.

Good luck in 2019!

Isobel Ching’s 3 Take-Aways from #WEF2019

A guest post by Isobel Ching, CEO

Isobel Ching CEOAt -10°C, queuing for the shuttle that will take me from the conference centre to the Digital Technologies of Tomorrow reception, I am surrounded by my peers. These are people like me: educated, powerful, enabled, with a certain commitment to bettering the world. And yet … This year some voices are missing. No Macron, no Trump … But the key issues we are here to solve remain: climate change, gender equality, income inequality.

This make me wonder, does Davos still matter? Is it still worth me trekking to Klosters in the late January snow? Should I just send Carmen or Buck next year?

I think we are all coming next year. And here’s why:

1) In-person matters more than ever

The world might be obsessed by digital, but in-person matters more than ever. The big consulting firms bring lots of data to WEF. One example is Accenture, who asserts that trust in digital has eroded. And they have a set of recommendations for rebuilding it.

I’m struck by how digitally focused their recommendations are nevertheless – especially as they’re bringing these to a face-to-face event. So whilst I agree with the diagnosis, I’d extend the proposed remedy by saying: focus on bringing your people together more.

This why I make time to get my team in the same room. To discuss, plan and review scenarios and to learn from different perspectives. You should too.

Which leads us to the next point, where I hope to see a change next year:

2) CEOs are not getting the data they want

PwC launched their 22nd annual CEO survey. I remember being interviewed for this, and wondering what the results would be. One of the most interesting charts in the report visualised the gap between data considered critical for decision making – versus comprehensiveness of the data currently received.

2019 PwC CEO Survey Report - Exhibit 12

Part of this links to whether CEOs perceive their staff to have the right skills. In an age that is sometimes called the gig economy, I was encouraged to see that my fellow CEOs still invest in training and retraining. I encourage you to move team development from the “nice to have” to the “absolutely must” column of your to do list.

Exhibit 14 from the PwC CEO Survey Report

The report also quotes my friend and rival, Adidas CEO Kasper Rørsted – exploring the tension between following a core idea and getting fresh input:

“We look at all kinds of collaborative creation as valuable — not only within our company, but with external partners as well. We are clear about the borders of our brand, because the brand is sacred to us. But we also recognize that if we have only the inspiration and creativity of people within our own organization, we miss a lot of what’s going on in the marketplace. We articulate this point by saying that we need to be consumer-obsessed and to create the best product for the consumer. If that is your endgame, then you have to be able to confront sacred cows, and open yourself up to ideas that you might not have been open to in the past.”

3) Practice analytical thinking and complex problem solving

The insights above combined with the earlier WEF Future of Jobs report all point to the need for opportunities to practice analytical thinking and complex problem solving. Preferably in-person.

Table 4 from the 2018 WEF future of jobs report -https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-future-of-jobs-report-2018 - Comparing Skills Demand

To that end I’ve asked my colleague Hugh Mann to draw up some ideas for conferences to attend in 2019. You should think about the same for your own development.

I’m also encouraged by the number of companies bringing me and my colleagues to their offices to help their teams develop and get in touch with new ways of thinking. We’ll be in the Leeds University Business School next…

Right … The shuttle is here … Got to go. I don’t want to get stuck next to the Zuck at dinner … he always tries to practice his terrible Mandarin on me.

“I wanted to move from more of a tactical, transactional approach.” – A Q&A

Hundreds have played Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders around the world – and we like to check in with people. In this instalment of our series of conversations, Stephen spoke to Fayrouz Essack, Strategic Communications Manager at the UK Department for Transport.

Stephen: Hi Fayrouz, please tell me a little about your work.

Fayrouz: I’m part of the strategic communications team at the Department for Transport (DfT). My work includes overseeing management of the ‘grid’ – the tool we use to coordinate departmental communication and working on our external campaigns.

Stephen: But you’ve not been at DfT for long?

Fayrouz: No, I re-joined in June 2018, after a stint working in the Prime Minister’s Office as a Senior Campaigns Manager. That was exciting because working at the centre of government gives you a new perspective. I worked with lots of different people in different departments and was able to build my network and work in some challenging situations.

Stephen: You mentioned building your network. How did you do that?

Fayrouz: I wanted to move from more of a tactical, transactional approach. So I did two things. First, where possible, I arranged to meet people face-to-face and used the opportunity to find out a bit more their professional priorities and preoccupations. Second, I tried to find things we have in common: can I ‘click’ with them? What values do we both share? What do they do outside of work? This provides a common ground for working with them.

Stephen: Very good. In my research about how to build trusted adviser relationships, I identified four elements. You are already using two: building the relationship and identifying the common ground. (The other two are defining the business outcome and reducing risk.)

Fayrouz: Indeed. I learned about the importance of networking as part of the Early Talent Programme.

Stephen: Yes, I know. We met when we ran a Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders workshop as part of the 2-day residential element of the programme. As you will recall, we built a special, tailored version for use for government communicators. What can you tell me about the wider context of the whole programme?

Fayrouz: The Early Talent Programme is a two-year programme run by the UK Government Communication Service (GCS) to help professionals build and develop their career. I started in April 2017 and it has really helped me build my career. For example, I was a given a coach who I see every month. My coach really helps me think through challenges and encourages me to think about the next step in my career. I’d encourage anyone in the GCS to see if they’re eligible to apply.

Stephen: You said earlier that you like to find out more about people do outside of work. What about you? What do you do outside of work?

Fayrouz: I go to boxing class. My coach actually suggested I go weekly, ensuring I balance my career and development with self care. I liked it so much I now go twice a week. Last weekend I was in Kiev where my partner works. It was so cold!

Stephen: Yes I can imagine. Thanks again for your time.

Learn more about the work of the UK Department for Transport and also the Early Talent Programme. And you can connect with Fayrouz on LinkedIn.

And if you’d like to try the game: see if it is right for you.

If you’re an alumna/us and you’d like to be interviewed, let us know.