Sunday, 22 April 2012 00:00

The Art Of No

Rate this item
(2 votes)

There I was, in a posh Montreal hotel conference room, two customers on one side of the table, and my client and me on the other. Taped to the back of my laptop lid was a conference-center supplied piece of paper with a hastily scrawled note on it. The entire message consisted of only two letters followed an exclamation mark. The letters were "N" and "O." They sent a succinct message that was hard to ignore as the customer incessantly strove to get a little more functionality brought into the failing project's scope. For every request, I would drop my chin slightly, look over the top of my glasses, tap my right index finger on the top of my laptop, and they would relent. Instead of being a pessimistic curmudgeon, I was bringing realism about the budget and timeline and doing what leaders do—making hard decisions.

The Yes Culture

There are certainly more polite ways to deny a request; however, this project would be millions of dollars over budget even with my incessant perfunctory reply. Everyone knew that we had to make tough decisions or failure—in the form of cancellation—would be laid upon all of us. Therefore, for three days, we jocularly heeded the sign's advice.

We have become soft. We have created a culture that is rife with the positive. Look no further than how we build estimates. Regardless of the task, we plentifully pad our approximations. We carefully define the effort to complete the assignment and then factor in "contingency." An eloquent word for "slop," which is a term from the old-days for extra time inserted into schedules for unknowns and unrelated undertakings. Those were the days before our culture considered multitasking more valuable than focus. I long to return to those days, or at least this prudent philosophy. We would be far more productive. Instead, we push more time into assignments anticipating the boss' email, phone call, or abrupt presence in your cubicle with a new-must-be-done-right-now request for averting some immediate catastrophe. All of us, being the recipient of thousands of these demands, know too well that the world will keep spinning if we refuse the request.

The LoveFest

However, with the superior's appeal comes the LoveFest. You are prepared. Having anticipated your boss' action, you have padded your timeline and, with a comforting smile, you reply, "Yes." Your boss' shoulders drop, he or she exhales a relieved sigh, followed by a faintly auditable "Good" (the great boss says "thank you," but do not get your expectations too high). Everyone is happy as the affirmative report reverberates up the chain of command. A warm, fuzzy feeling over takes people much like a "they lived happily ever after," it nauseates leaders.

The result is that all tasks become tardier simply because of management's inability to prioritize. Prioritization: the one action that provides the ammunition to decline the request. The predictable result of multitasking is always the same—everything becomes late.

No is Good

Want to read more?

Strategy, alignment, communication of goals is not easy. Our Vision To Value white paper talks about focusing your team on the key strategic corporate goals and ensuring everyone in your organization knows the direction.

Refusing to comply with the request can be much more tactful than hanging a negatory note on your cubicle wall. It starts with each one of us denying the opportunity by eliminating pad from our estimates. Eradicating "slop" makes it impossible to use and you can rightfully decline requests with a simple "No, I would, but I am busy getting this task done. If I work on your task, this one will be late. Sorry. However, if you get approval for me to be late on this task, then I can help you." This puts the requestor in the position of validating priorities. Never, assume he or she knows what you are working on and how important it is. Taskmasters have the fiduciary responsibility of validating the reassignment; however, that takes work. Discovering conflicting priorities, places them in a position of saying "no" to the original requestor. My advice: put your current assignments first and if the new request is really that important, your task will be given the grace required. Your ability to deliver on time and as promised will erase any overtones of not being a team player.

Practice Saying No

The advice is easy; however, the words are hard. Leaders must learn to say no. Our culture is so brainwashed to the positive that we have lost the ability to decline requests. Change that by taking a proactive approach and reading the recommendations of an assertiveness coach. The advice is simple—be direct. Just as shown above, the first word should be "No." Being less direct confuses the communication. Inform them of the actions they should take to attain an affirmative answer and ensure they understand the consequences of changing your priorities.

Bite Outta Crime Logo

Opportunity Crimes

At the heart, though, our behavior creates the opportunity for the crime. Talk to anyone in law enforcement they will tell you, "leave your car unlocked and it will get stolen". They call them opportunity crimes. Put extra time in your schedule and it will be used. Put extra money in the budget and it will be spent. By adding pad, you are guilty of creating the opportunity for your boss, or any other criminal in the organization, to steal your time. "Stop Slop" and take a bite out of crime.

Read 11443 times

Related items

  • People vs Process Track Session/Keynote Example

    If you want educational keynote many of our presentations can be keynotes or track sessions. In the example below, the presentation People or Process: Which Impacts Project Success More? is given as a track session.  

    Example People vs Process keynote as a track session

    This session was given at the PMI Sioux Empire Professions Development Day help in Sioux Falls SD on September 9, 2014.

  • Transform Your Project Leadership: For Professionals Leading Projects or Company Initiatives

    Todd Williams contributed Chapter 7, "Leaders Listen." You can buy it on Amazon.

    More coming soon!

  • Filling Execution Gaps: How Executives and Project Managers Turn Corporate Strategy into Successful Projects
    What Filling Execution Gaps Covers

    Filling Execution Gaps

    by Todd C. Williams
    ISBN: 978-1-5015-0640-6
    De G Press (DeGruyter), September 2017

    Project alignment, executive sponsorship, change management, governance, leadership, and common understanding. These six business issues are topics of daily discussions between executives, middle management, and project managers; they are the pivotal problems plaguing transformational leadership. Any one of these six, when improperly addressed, will hex a project's chances for success. And, they do—daily—destroying the ability companies to turn vision into value.

    Check it out on Amazon or the Filling Execution Gaps website

    Without the foundation of a common understanding of goals and core concepts, such as value being critical to success, communication stops and projects fail.

    Without change management, users fail to adopt project deliverables, value is lost, and projects fail.

    Without maintaining alignment between corporate goals and projects, projects miss their value targets and projects fail.

    Without an engaged executive sponsor, scope increases, goals drift, chaos reigns, value is lost, and projects fail.

    Without enough governance, critical connections are not made, steps are ignored, value is overlooked, and projects fail.

    Too much governance slows progress, companies cannot respond to business pressures, value drowns in bureaucracy, and projects fail.

    Without strong leadership defining the vision and value, goals are not set, essential relationships do not form, teams do not develop, essential decisions are not made, and projects fail.

  • Filling Execution Gaps: Building Success-Focused Organizations

    Executives define vision, strategy, and goals to advance the business. Projects enable companies to meet those goals. Between strategy and projects, there is a lot of work to be done—work that lays the foundation for project and operational success. Through experience and research, six common gaps exist in organizations that inhibit project success—an absence of common understanding, disengaged executive sponsors, misalignment with goals, poor change management, ineffective governance, and lackluster leadership.

  • Get Recognized as a Leader: Four Core Leadership Actions

    Leaders make decisions. This requires a core set of actions to gather the best information, hear out the concerns of others, and making a decision that everyone will follow—even if there is not unanimous agreement with the decision. Although there are hundreds of actions leaders must take, there are four core actions that all great leaders do—listening, dialog and discussion, selling a vision, and eliminating blame. This session will discuss those actions in a roundtable format that we call a "What Would You Do?" session. In these sessions, the presenter acts as a moderator spending 10 to 15 minutes per topic working with the audience talking about what the action is, how to best do it, and hearing from the group on how they have carried out the action. This brings significant audience interaction, involvement, and broader education. 

Leave a comment

Filling Execution Gaps

Available Worldwide

Filling Exectution Gaps cover

Filling Execution Gaps is available worldwide. Below are some options.


PG DirectLogo
Limited Time Price $20.99
Amazon logo
Book or Kindle
Flag of the United States Canadian Flag Flag of the United Kingdom Irish Flag Deutsche Flagge
Drapeau Français Bandiera Italiana PRC flag
Japanese flag
Bandera de España
Flag of India
Bandera de México
Bandeira do Brasil
Flag of Australia
Vlag van Nederland
DeG Press Logo
Barnes and Noble Logo
Books a Million Logo
Booktopia Logo
Worldwide: Many other
book sellers worldwide.

Rescue The Problem Project

Internationally acclaimed

Image of RPP

For a signed and personalized copy in the US visit the our eCommerce website.

Amazon logo
Buy it in the United States Buy it in Canada Buy it in the United Kingdom
Buy it in Ireland Buy it in Germany Buy it in France
Buy it in Italy Buy it in the PRC
Buy it in Japan
Book sellers worldwide.

Other's References

More Info on Project Recovery

Tell me More!

Please send me more information
on fixing a failing project.

Upcoming Events