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Why and How to say ‘no’, whilst building cohesive teams

A guide for leaders and team members

In the context of striving to succeed the dominant narrative is to impress others, be available, network, be helpful and to not let others down. This feels most true for those who lead their own businesses (the face of their businesses), those who are emerging or aspiring leaders and those who want to work in cohesive teams.

When I explore the problem of demand and capacity with clients, which is a common issue raised, I start with an exploration of the commitments that they have made to themselves. This is process is written about in more detail here.

From here, we can start to look at the agreements that have been made in their current role to explore where their activity is serving them best and where agreements have filled the diary with work that serves others at a personal/organisational cost.

On face value, agreeing to support the work of others seems like a sensible thing to do to create networks, positive impressions, business leads and/or a cohesive team environment. However, you all know that this can also lead to huge pressure and demand to deliver for others that can impact heavily on your ability to be available to meet your own commitments and the agreements that truly matter.

When this audit of agreements reveals issues — like saying yes too often — inevitably, many clients respond with, “I don’t seem to be able to say no”.

The art of saying ‘no’

The art of saying no is more than just a social barrier, it is potentially destructive to morale, productivity and personal development. I would go so far as to say that an inability to say no is a red flag in a team, requiring support.

A leader who cannot say no is not really capable of leading to success. In truth, most learn this on their journey upwards — as the ability to focus on their commitments enables them to perform and achieve promotions.

Many leadership spotting metrics tease out focus and an ability to deliver on task as valued traits.

Of course, not all leaders emerge in this way — and many are either ambitious to rise or leading as a consequence of building a business and sitting at the top. For these leaders, learning the art of ‘no’ is imperative.

For the keen team member, an inability to say no can dilute their key role to a more generic role that is driven by agreements rather than a passionate commitment to take the team goal