Last week, we talked about asking for help when you’re overwhelmed and stressed. Today, let’s consider the other side of the equation: when someone’s asking you.
Should you say yes?
When people come to me, “yes” is my default answer. However, while agreeing is the nice thing to do, that doesn’t mean it’s always the right thing to do. If you aren’t careful, you could find yourself taking on more than you can manage. Last fall, I wrote a post called Things that Aren’t Selfish, and there’s a similar point to make here. It’s great to help others, and to decrease their stress level, but doing so at the expense of your own well-being is a little too much selflessness. So ask yourself:
- Do I have the time and energy to do this?
- Do I have some responsibility in this situation?
- Can I do this without shortchanging other important things I need to accomplish?
- Am I the best or most appropriate person to step in?
- Can I count on the person asking me to reciprocate in the future?
If the answer to any of these questions is “no”, you should consider kindly refusing the request.
How do you say no?
If you’ve decided it’s best to refuse, or partly refuse, the request, saying so can feel awkward and uncomfortable. Here are a couple of ways to handle it:
The No-Time No: A time crunch is the most common reason people have to say no, and is also the easiest for someone else to accept, since chances are they’re in a similar situation. Simply saying, “I’m sorry, I’d love to help, but I just don’t have the time right now” is an honest, forthright way to refuse. If you can, point the other person in the direction of someone else who might be able to step in.
The Future No: This one is a partial yes, but there’s a no involved. It involves setting a limit to your involvement and making it clear that there’s only so much you’re able/willing to do. For example, “Yes, I can help you upload that information, but if we encounter any problems you’ll need to talk to Bob in IT” or “I can help you work through the first step, but I won’t be able to stay involved past that point”. With the future no, you’re giving someone the help you can spare, but in a way that prevents you from getting more involved than you can afford.
The Conditional No: This is another partial yes. Here you say, “No, I can’t do that, unless…”. You want to avoid transactional phrasing here. This isn’t exactly, “I’ll only do X for you if you do Y for me”, but more along the lines of, “I do not have the time to complete X for you unless someone takes Y off my plate, or helps make it easier”. This can even be as simple as saying “no” to the timeframe the person asked for, but letting them know if they get an extension on the task you’ll have time later. Or, if it’s your boss, letting them know you’ll need an extension on something else.
The “Not my Circus” No: Sometimes, you’re asked for help with something that isn’t in your wheelhouse. This is an obvious no, because you can’t handle it, and during crunch time you don’t have the bandwidth to go outside your normal area like you might want to do during less crazy times. However, there’s one thing you can do with this no that benefits everyone, and it’s such a simple thing, especially with so much communication being electronic right now. Look at the difference between these two responses:
- “I’m sorry, my department doesn’t handle that, and I don’t know off the top of my head. You’ll want to reach out to Bill, I think that’s his department’s job.”
- “I’m sorry, my department doesn’t handle that, and I don’t know off the top of my head. I’ve copied Bill on this reply because I think he’s the person who handles this. Bill, could you help Stan with his question, or get him to the right place if I’m wrong?”
It’s such a tiny change and only takes a couple more clicks on your part, but it makes life so much easier for everyone involved.
How do you balance your desire to help others with your own well-being?