Say No Faster

Chris Brogan

I’m cleaning up my inbox this morning. I use Google Apps and as such, have a Gmail type interface. When there’s something I think is important and requires follow-up, I put a star next to that piece of mail (if you’ve never seen it, it looks like this):

stars on Gmail

It’s come to my attention that I don’t really use stars to mean something is important. Instead, I use stars to say, “I don’t really want to deal with this much at all, but I took on the responsibility, so the potato is mine until I’ve dealt with it.” In several cases, this all would have been much better if I’d learned to say no faster.

Say No Faster

Why do we linger before saying no? One reason is that we hate to disappoint. This is my primary reason. The other reason is that we sense that something might be a good opportunity, even if we have absolutely no capacity to handle what’s being pointed in our direction. In both cases, no one is all that happy with the way you end up handling things that end up falling into this category.

I think some of the problem is that we don’t fully understand the syntax of saying no in such a way as to say, “What you’re doing is important, and I’m very supportive of you, but I’m not able to take on what you’d like me to do because of my own full plate of commitments.”

That sentence is often what’s missing. That, plus the ability to accept that we shouldn’t feel guilty for being busy.

No Fast is Better Than No Response At All

Today, I sheepishly deleted several emails with stars on them that were waiting for a quick response, and that ended up getting no reply at all. Dozens. Maybe 100 overall. So that means almost 100 people got my attention, got me to read something, got me to think that maybe I should do something, even though I really didn’t have the capacity, and then received no response. To those 100 people, I didn’t respond at all. I’m more of a jerk than if I’d said no politely.

Make the “Say No Faster” Resolution

Repeat after me:

From now on, I resolve to say no faster. I will say no with grace and poise and kindness, but I will say no. Even when something takes “just five minutes,” if I don’t have the time or don’t feel compelled to sway from the course of my own commitments, I will say no with kindness, and wish the person well. Saying no faster is much better than not responding, and much better than the guilt I will feel if I say yes, but can’t deliver.

And so it is.

You all deserve better. I’m sorry if you were one of the people I never responded to, and I will do much better at communicating in the future.

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