Tuesday, August 22
I just can't do it. There has to be secret force in the universe that prevents the word NO from exiting my mouth. I bow down to those of you have mastered this force and ask for guidance as to how to vanquish this horrible foe. I feel the assault on my spinal column with every request. I do not wish to fall victim to academyosteoporotic syndrome. I mean a forced spinectomy is one thing but this is self-inflicted! Oh wise colleagues, please share your secrets!!


kodachrome said...


Turquoise Stuff said...

Sorry to hear this Sulphur. Are these incidents in person? Over email? It matters.

Then again, maybe not that much. I think a step in the right direction would be if you promised yourself NEVER to accept anything (even the most obvious of requests/invitations) right after you've been asked. Set a rule for yourself. You will spend at least x hours or days (where x can be as low as 1) to contemplate a request/invitation.

Some things look really great or obvious or pressing in the moment, but once you've had even just a little time to contemplate, you realize it's not necessary and nothing will go wrong if you say no (or if something will, that won't be your problem).

For example, let's say you get a request over email. The person sending you the email doesn't know you've even read the email yet. So give yourself some time. If you get a request in person then say that you don't have your calendar on you and will have to check.

Of course, you'll always want to be grateful and polite, but you do NOT have to say yes to everything.

I've said no quite a few times in the past few months. I still have unbelievable amounts going on, of course, but I do feel good about those no's. I don't regret any of them. They weren't all easy, but those no's were all the right decision.

So take some time, that should help.

What goes through your mind exactly when you contemplate saying no, which all then results in a yes?

kodachrome said...

Whoops! I'm sorry. Sulphur Siren. I couldn't resist saying, no, and then I had a thing to do (really!). I think the trick is to think hard about what you get, what the requester gets, and what larger groups get (like whether your work might benefit your own intellectual community). I turn down self-serving requests easily, and I have a natural aversion to flattery that serves me well. It’s guilt, in its various forms that nails me. Dagnabit! But the one thing I know for sure, even when I am unable to follow through… is that the biggest mistake in the book is to give your reasons. Never let someone who is trying to persuade you of something help you manage your priorities.

Clear said...

We should have a contest on a.secret where all participants have to say NO to ten different work-related things in the next month. I've heard that is effective for getting people in the habit.

Sulphur Siren said...

Well..the most recent thing is a grant proposal. I'm only starting my second year so being on proposals is good in theory. Except this proposal was really really really bad. (If I was reviewing it I would not have read past the first two horribly written pages.)

The problem is that it was a great opportunity (the program) and two veteran professors writing. So I kind of look like an upstart jerk by saying "Gee, this proposal would be better if you rewrote it. Oh and by the way your facts are three years out of date. Here is the latest relevant report." I could maybe have helped rewrite it except that I didn't get to see it until two weeks before the deadline. So I been agonizing over how to say "I don't want to do this" for a week and dodging email and phone calls. I feel like a "naughty puppy" (in the words of Chartreuse Circe). Like I will get in trouble.

But I wrote the post because it is a broader problem for me personally and professionally. I think the underlying problem is not that I am trying to please so much that I am trying not to disappoint. Also, I am not politically savvy and often under- or overestimate the outcomes of small actions. In this context, saying NO seems monumentally bad for some reason.

Maybe I need some of that superhero underwear endowed with special NO powers.

Anonymous said...

try treating the request as a joke.

fraud, in denim said...

I say yes all the time.

I did get some advice at a retreat last week that might work in certain cases. They told us to find something we really wanted to do (a committee, etc.) and volunteer, and from that point forward, if anyone asked us to do something we were instructed to say, "Gee, I'd love to, but I'm already serving on X committee."

I think having a list of all that you're doing (because if you can't say no, I presume you're doing a lot), is a good thing to keep on your bulletin board to refer to.

twilight blue said...

I have a folder in my desktop email program in which I keep track of the things to which I've said "no." I look at it when I need to be reminded that
1) I CAN say "no";
2) the world does not fall apart when I do.

Chartreuse Circe said...

There are some great suggestions in here -- and a great plea, Sulph (can I call you Sulph? after all, I inflicted Turq on Turquoise, and it seems only fair).

I have real problems with this, because I tend to endow the asker (my chair, whatever) with parent-like qualities, and forget that I'm a colleague, in essence an equal.

This is really important -- refusing to do take on additional tasks. I guess it's important to decide whether something has a tangible benefit for you, and only in that instance say yes.

I like Fraud's suggestion to use something you did agree to as a way to refuse something else (I tend not to do that because I think "well, I wanted X, so how can I justify refusing to do somehting else because I _chose_ to do X." Stupid.

And I think I'm going to adopt Twilight's suggestion of keeping a list of things that have been refused without causing the world to end -- and adding a list of what I _have_ agreed to, so that I stop imagining that I'm not pulling my weight somehow.

Whew. Hot button issue for me, obviously.

Blog Archive