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Learning to say no

Learning to say no 25.10.2017 - Project management is a competitive arena in which it can be difficult to find a clear perspective in day-to-day work situations and in which many are at risk of suffering from burnout. Project managers need to be a little tougher than those in other professions in order to autonomously bring projects successfully to fruition. This primarily involves having the ability to focus completely on the requirements of the project and to avoid becoming sidetracked by anything. As a project manager, it is also important to be able to say no, to refuse to carry out favours and to firmly reject any suggestions that do not benefit the project. This can prove to be challenging for many people both in terms of their project management responsibilities and their personal lives.


Confidently saying no

Most people have been brought up to feel uneasy if they set boundaries with someone and refuse to do something for this person. However, in the professional world this is part of the job. Clear boundaries need to be set in project management. The project manager needs to learn to exude strength and confidence in order to ensure that all project participants clearly understand what is appropriate and acceptable and what is not. Even people who are not actually the project manager, but who are carrying out another task within project management, need to learn to say no so they can concentrate on important tasks. Amiability and a helpful nature are wonderful attributes; however, no one should be allowed to take advantage of them. The person who constantly nods his head and takes on everything he is asked to do will eventually not be taken seriously by his colleagues. Teamwork does not mean taking on everyone else’s work and letting them get away with it. 


The step-by-step approach to saying no

It is possible to train yourself to say no, to change habits, to exude confidence and to not feel bad if you do not do the bidding of each and every person.
 
There are four steps that can lead you to exude a more confident persona and that will enable you to decline inappropriate and unreasonable demands and requests. Step one involves evaluating the situation correctly and identifying those people who continuously ask for deadline extensions using ridiculous excuses or demand that their workload is reduced. The project manager must learn to distinguish between a crisis situation and a white lie. It is usually sufficient to look back over the course of the project which will show any particular patterns. 


Managing professionally and evaluating situations

One technique that can be helpful in many situations is to avoid committing yourself by saying neither yes nor no which allows you to play for time. Phrases such as, ‘I don’t know yet if that will be possible’ or ‘We need to consider whether we can find a way’ make it clear to the other person that his demand or request will not be met with unconditional approval and there is then a possibility that he will search for an alternative solution. However, if as a project manager you find you only have time to say ‘perhaps’ and are thus deferring decisions, it is necessary to seriously deal with the fact that you might need to use the word ‘no’. You need to constantly remind yourself that it is never smart to always say yes. It is important to remind yourself several times a day that you bear the prime responsibility for the project and that you cannot confuse amiability with the inability to say no or to act decisively, particularly if this places the project at risk because no one is motivated to work, does not keep promises or acts in a dishonest way. There is no justifiable reason to feel bad about carrying out your work as a project manager in a conscientious way. The situation simply involves taking a firm position at the right moment. 


Dismissing feelings of guilt

Most people naturally want to be liked and valued at work. In project management especially, it is often not possible to please everyone. You need to be clear about the fact that feelings of guilt are counterproductive. Your colleagues and other project participants are much more likely to value and respect you if you take your job seriously, if you judge situations in a neutral and proficient way and if you make decisions in a transparent and forthright way in line with the requirements of the project. It is important to explain your decisions and clarify why you have said yes or no to a question or request. Even if some colleagues are annoyed about this, there will be others who will understand that they should not take your refusal personally. It is important to always conduct yourself in a consistent and transparent way. Choose your words carefully and remain professional at all times. If your colleagues see from the start that you always base your decisions on facts and are definitely able to say no if it is in the interests of the project, you will soon find that no one will bother to approach you with unreasonable demands. It is critical that you learn these and other techniques if you notice that you are having problems with being able to say no.

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