Resourceful managers always have a lot going on. It comes with the territory. So we sometimes have to say no to demands for our time. And most people respect that.
But then there are The Others. You recognize them. The PWNHNs – the People Who Never Hear No.
They’re always clamoring for your time, and you Just. Can’t. Tell. Them. No.
They ask. You politely say no.
They cajole: “But you’re perfect for this! I need you!”
They pout: “What do you mean, no? You did it last year!”
They argue: “It won’t take long. You can fit it in between meetings.”
Faced with their stubborn persistence, you cave in. As a result, you’re overbooked and stressed.
But you can’t be everything to everyone. You can stop the PWNHNs by recognizing their tactics, getting smart about avoiding their traps and learning how to say ‘no’.
Trap #1: The Favor (‘I’ll help you if you help me.’)
How It Works: A demand for time that sounds like a favor always persuades us to say yes. After all, when someone asks, “Could you do me a favor?” who blurts, “Nope, not now – check with me next week?”
And when someone does a favor for us, it’s natural to want to return it – when we’re able. But when the PWNHN pressures you to give time when you can’t, it turns into harassment.
They might offer you a favor first before asking; they know the desire to reciprocate. Or, they’ll slyly bring up a time when you asked them for a favor and they granted it. This plays to our sense of obligation: “Jane helped me when I needed an extra volunteer, so I can’t say no when she needs one!”
How To Fight It: Don’t Let Them Guilt You
Before you think “I should say yes,” take the time to calculate whether you can really do it. Ask when you’re needed for the extra work. If you’ve got room, great. If you don’t, offer a sincere apology, but still give them a firm no.
Be sure to make your answer as final as possible (not “I might be free on Tuesday…”). PWNHNs know how to jump on a wavering answer, so it’s best to avoid giving one.
Avoid guilt by suggesting that you’ll make it up to them in the future. Try: “I’d love to help, but I’m booked. Let me know when your next event is – I’ll make sure it’s on my calendar.”
Trap #2: The Double-Ask (‘If you can’t do that, could you do this?’)
How It Works: The PWNHN is betting that if you say no to one thing, if they ask for something smaller you’ll say yes. “Well, if you can’t participate all three days, could you at least do one?”
This technique works because it gives us the opportunity to at least agree to something. Problem is, we’ll often agree to option #2 because it requires less time than option #1—even if we don’t have time for either.
They’ll often couple their request with a crafty bait-and-switch to determine where your time is open:
PWNHN: “We’re meeting on Thursday about this year’s outreach and you said you’d help.”
YOU: “Well, I can’t. I’ve two other meetings that day. It’s a shame – I might be free next week.”
PWNHN: “Perfect! Next week we have two meetings!”
How To Fight It: Avoid TMI About Your Free Time
See what happened? The first request asked for a specific day. You knew you couldn’t do the first request, so you said no. But then you offered a different time, and the asker pounced right on it!
Even if we’re sure we can’t give up our time, we sometimes buttress a ‘no’ with excuses or rationales. This is why PWNHNs are persistent – they know we’ll refuse a request only if we absolutely have to.
What works? Be a little vague: “Let me check…when would I be needed?” This forces the asker to give you specifics so you can make a decision that’s more comfortable for you.
Trap #3: Anchoring (“So how many hours can I put you down for?”)
How It Works: This slick move is honed by charity board members, among others, to campaign for time and money. People ask for your time by assuming you’ll say ‘yes’; it’s just a matter of how much you’ll part with.
With this move, the PWNHN cleverly counts you in before you agree to anything. “Most managers volunteer 6 hours; can I put you down for 4?”
Reliable, organized leaders are often hot targets for anchoring. PWNHNs know we often handle 20 things at once and can always be trusted to help out when asked. The problem is, this move never gives us time to actually consider if we have enough time to take on another project or workload.
How To Fight It: Don’t Get Caught By Surprise
So what if you’re on their list – that doesn’t mean they get to control your time. Deflect their suggestion: “Please don’t put me down yet; that week might be full. I’ll let you know.”
The anchoring is often used as a sales strategy (and it’s been proven to work) by convincing people they have already agreed to buy in. If you’re not sure you can afford the time, be prepared before the PWNHN traps you.
Trap #4: The Flattery Express (‘But you’re our best manager!’)
How It Works: When you head up a project, everyone knows you give 100%. PWNHNs know this too, so they’ll always demand your time in a way that’s impossible to refuse by laying on the flattery: “You’re the best manager we’ve got for this new initiative!”
This approach plays on our sense of pride. It’s hard not to feel great when told you’re the best at something. So when the PWNHN tells you you’re a great leader/organizer/chairperson, it’s more than a pat on the back – it’s a subtle arm-twist for time you don’t have.
How To Fight It: Work Out A Deal
Here’s where your natural leadership skills come in. If you don’t have time to devote to work that you previously led the effort on, admit it. Explain that workloads or your schedules have changed, and you’ve got to decline.
Then, delegate. Offer to train someone to take over. This way, your “No, I can’t this time,” turns into a contribution. “But I’ll teach someone else the ropes.”
Saying no to people who never seem to hear it involves tact, diplomacy and a bit of savvy. Do it wisely, and you’ll manage to protect your time and avoid making enemies.
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