Today while I was skyping with my dear friend Mary, we stumbled upon something that we realized has helped us both professionally and sometimes personally.
Not offering explanations.
Allow me to explain (haha). If someone asks you to do something at work whether in person, via email or phone, not only can you say no, but you also don’t owe them an explanation. Nothing undermines a “no” quite like a long explanation explaining why you can’t do something. You don’t have to be rude about it, just be clear and to the point.
In my professional life I’ve noticed this is more of an issue for women versus men. We don’t want to be perceived as not being helpful or easy to work with, so if we have to say no we want to be sure that the asker is aware of all the many reasons why we can’t assist this time.
But do they really need to know all your reasons? Do they really care about all those details? How much of it is actually their business? How much of that is helpful for them to know? Often times we provide copious explanations because we are fearful our “no” will be followed with a “why not?” But most of the time, people will not ask “why not.” In fact if they do, that says a lot more about them than you. Is that even an appropriate question for them to ask?
Sometimes I will re-write an email multiple times because my instinct is to fill it with flowering explanations about why I can’t do something. The final edition rarely looks anything like the original because I have stripped it down to a polite but concise answer.
Flowery long-winded explanations undermine your authority. I’ve watched it first hand in my mistakes. If you’re a fellow people pleaser like myself, take notes from others. Allow others to be your teachers of what works and what doesn’t. Watch how they say no or give answers. What kind of responses do they get?
As always, be forgiving of yourself when you don’t answer with strength. Most days we are just doing the best we can. It’s also going to feel awkward at first, if you are used to justifying your reasons for everything you do. Baby steps. Try an email first. This allows you to edit and really think about your response. Also if someone asks you something in person, sometimes we think we have to give a response right then and there. Nope. Shift the power back to yourself and tell them you need to think about it. Rarely do we need to respond in that exact moment. You are reminding the asker that you are not someone who can be bullied into an immediate answer. You are also giving yourself time to figure out what you want to do. Also it’s so much harder to backtrack and take back a response versus telling the person you need time to think about it and then later offering a response.
The respect you gain from others when you set appropriate boundaries, do not offer explanations where it’s not needed, and answer with confidence is vital in your self-care quest. You’ve got this!
Take care of YOU.