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Saying “No” Can Be Positive

Most of us don’t like to be told we can’t do or have something that we think is essential to work. We all tend to think that the more resources we have, the better results we’ll achieve. While this belief is true at times, it can also lead us to stifle our creativity and our ability to work with what we have. Additionally, the belief that what we have isn’t enough to reach our goals raises our anxiety, delays us from taking action, and makes us lose sight of what we want to accomplish.

When a manager turns down a request, we usually have two reactions. First, we think that he or she doesn’t understand the scale of the problem — otherwise we’d be given the necessary resources for a resolution. Second, we accept that we will fail: Without more time, the quality of work will suffer. Without extra headcount, we’ll need to limit the scope of a project. Without a larger marketing budget, sales will drop and so on.

If we feel defeated, we start to reduce our effort, which leads to a negative self-fulfilling prophecy. We act as if our projects can’t be completed with the highest standard with what we already have — and that’s what happens.

Research has found that people work to meet their own and others’ expectations. When we misinterpret a “no” from the boss as an indication that we are undervalued, we end up sinking to those expectations.

Instead, set higher expectations. Think about how hard work, the creative use of existing resources, and collaboration with others will enable you to meet project deadlines, sales targets, or any other objectives. A “No” gives you the opportunity to prove to others that you can find creative solutions to deliver quality work with less.

You’ve heard it said many times that a problem is an opportunity. It really is! So why do so many of us resist the opportunity?

We have become accustomed to needing more to do more. When we have a lot of resources, there’s no need to get creative with how to use or maximize them. But when those resources disappear, we struggle. We haven’t developed skills in resourcefulness. Think creatively to solve your problems. It’s the old “if life hands you a lemon, make lemonade and sell it” routine.

When we’re denied resources, we often find new ways of using the resources we already have. Every time the boss says no and we successfully adapt, we not only solve a problem but also break our dependence on needing more to do more.

Every minute we spend worrying about what we don’t have is one less minute we spend actually doing something. When we take a refusal personally, believing that it’s a reflection of our work or ourselves, we feel diminished and struggle to tap the resources we already have.

This state or immobility is call “threat rigidity” which means that in times of threat (for instance, if we think we’ve done something wrong or are no longer valued) we fall into the trap of thinking less creatively about our resources. We find it difficult to become resourceful precisely when the situation calls for it and we waste opportunities to meet our objectives.

There’s a simple way to overcome feeling threatened by a “No”. Think about what you do have. Put your resources in motion by experimenting. As you gain momentum, it will become easier to meet goals without a complete plan, an ideal team, or a bigger budget. A “No” now is an opportunity to do more with less. Be grateful for the opportunity to flex your intellectual muscles!

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Although every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this blog, nothing herein should be construed as giving advice and no responsibility will be taken for inaccuracies or errors.

Copyright © 2017 all rights reserved. You may copy or distribute this blog as long as this copyright notice and full information about contacting the author are attached. The author is Kate Russell of Russell HR Consulting Ltd.

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