Something that most of us need to do in our careers, particularly if you work on a team or in a larger workplace is to actually work with other people. Sometimes that’s with your immediate peers, and sometimes that can mean reaching out across the organization to get some information or have someone complete a task. This of course flows in both ways — people will need to reach out to you as well for help or information. Perhaps obviously, the best response in these situations is for people to say ‘yes‘ and things can move on from there. But if an immediate or obvious ‘yes‘ isn’t an option what then? I’m here to tell you that the second best answer is an immediate ‘no.’
That Seems Counter-intuitive
At first it might. But I can already feel the “old” folks and workplace veterans nodding their heads as they’ve realized where I’m going with this.
The biggest thing that holds up decisions, projects or work in general is the response “oh, I need to go check with someone.” This inevitably leads to at least one more meeting, usually days (or weeks) later and sometimes doesn’t even bring a solution. Occasionally this isn’t avoidable — you don’t have the right expert or decision maker in the meeting so you need to get their help. (This is an entirely different issue I’ll probably address another time.) In other cases the person responding is trying to be helpful… they know they can’t help or they’re overloaded, but instead of saying so they give a non-committal answer. This isn’t actually helpful.
Saying No Isn’t Uncooperative
Saying you can’t help, or telling someone ‘no‘ is something that doesn’t stop the process entirely. In most cases what this does is push the discussion “up the chain” to allow more senior leaders to prioritize. Maybe the thing the other team is working on actually is the top priority. In that case these people can’t help you until that priority is dealt with. In other cases your work will be the top priority and they’ll be asked to park that other project and help you out.
In either case you get clarity, you get an answer and you can move on with your life.