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How and when to say No: essentials of effective task management

essentials of effective task management

When you read the title you already pictured past situations where you would loved to say “no” but said “yes” didn’t you? That’s what I thought. It’s so hard to say what is perhaps the shortest word in the english dictionary  that is so simple, and yet so complicated.

When studying to become a manager, you’ve probably been taught that you never say “no”. You have to avoid  the word at all costs, simply because it’s so negative and tends to burn delicate bridges that you spend days, weeks, maybe even months building. You aren’t ready to throw that much invested time out of the window, especially when the request/suggestion/whatever it might be doesn’t seem to be so hard or off putting. But, deep down, you know it’s wrong, or unnecessary or even bad. Well too bad – it’s time to man-up (or woman-up) and slam your foot down.

Firstly,let’s make something clear: regardless of your answer “yes” or “no” about any topic, you are going to be responsible for everything that goes wrong in the end. If the project fails, and you have this voice screaming at you in the back of your head “You knew this would happen” it’s still your fault. You aren’t going to say “Well, you know, Mark proposed this idea and I knew it’s bad, but couldn’t muster any force to say no even though I knew it was bad” to justify yourself. In fact, you might just get fired right on the spot.

So what do we do? Surely, there are some cases that you might get away with by saying “yes” when you really don’t mean to, but other than that, how and when do you say “no“?

Be honest

Be honest both with your teammates, clients, customers, superiors and yourself. This is by far the best tactic to go with. It’s going to be super hard, might burn a few bridges, but in the long run you will save yourself a ton (I mean a truckload, a very big, gigantic, transformer truck) of headache, stress and complications. I know that you want to be helpful and supportive, it’s part of your job as a manager, but never forget what Uncle Ben said, “With great power, comes great responsibility.” You are the one wielding the power. If anything fails – you answer for it, simple as that.

You might be thinking something like “well, what if I think it’s a bad idea, but it turns out to be good somehow in the end, but I rejected it?” Yes, well there are risks you will have to take. I would even go further and say that it’s better to mess something up yourself (rejecting offers, making wrong decisions or whatever, stuff happens you know) than if you say “yes” to a “no”. Trust me, it will haunt you for a very, very long time.

Think wider

If you still find it difficult to say no, try approaching the matter from another side. Think of your team and project as one living organism. Let’s take a simple example – fast food. If you care about health you probably don’t eat fast food, at least not often. But each time you see the juicy looking burger, for a few seconds every receptor in your body is urging you to eat it. Since you know it’s harmful, most of the time you are able to overpower yourself and say no to fast food, understanding that each time you eat it, it’s going to be bad in the long run.

Same thing here. If you know that a “yes” will harm your project or teamwork, take responsibility as the brain of the organism and say “no“, at least most of the times. A random “yes” might sneak in here and there, but it’s not going to make that much of an impact as a constant stream. Ideally, you need to take out those as well, but one step at a time is a solid strategy. This approach will help you get started.

Remember who you are and what you do

Priorities will come in handy here as well. Whenever making a decision regarding a project, you always have to think about the project’s health first. Is the suggestion/offer good for the project? Is it worth it? Will the project benefit? Answering these types of questions can help you make your decision based solely on logic, in case you are unable to overpower yourself.

Take the suggestion. Push everything else aside. Shut off emotions. Is it good for the project? Yes – consider it, no – disregard it. This sounds a bit too machine like, but hey, machines are good for getting the job done.

Be diplomatic

As much as you need to say no sometimes, you can still do it in a graceful way. Yes, it might take a lot more time to do some explaining as to why something is rejected, but on the other hand, think of what you will gain.

Let’s picture an example. If you just keep on pumping out “no”s without any explanations or justification, it’s going to double the negativity and tension inside the team each time. You will save yourself a lot of time and effort by skipping this, but really, you don’t want the consequences. They will add up (like everything else in life) and start destroying the team spirit from within at some point.

On the other hand, if you can be patient and diplomatic with everybody, take the time to explain and justify your reasoning (assuming it’s good and correct) then you will find yourself in a much better position. Yes, it’s still negative, but doesn’t kill the good atmosphere. You lose a lot of time, but retain the bridges between the two of you, while also making sure that there is less chance that the same mistake will be made again in the future. That’s pretty valuable if you ask me.

It’s like with children: You tell them no, they are unhappy and start crying, but if you explain the WHY, they will still be unhappy (obviously, they want to roll in the damn sand all day long!), but at least they will know you took the time to explain.

Just in case you try all of these and still can’t do the correct thing, then you might as well start thinking about quitting project management and doing something else. Right? NO! You are the manager and it’s your responsibility. You can’t just give up or runaway. Everything in life comes down to decision making, one way or another. Even if you try doing something else, the very same no will be back. You will just find yourself in the same situation, just different surroundings.

You should be a leader for your team, and leaders have to say “no” sometimes. What’s important, is the end goal. If you know what you have to do (and there is nobody else who knows it better) then just do it (Go Nike! Claps, claps).

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