When to say Yes, No, or Maybe at work

To avoid burnout and overcommitment in today’s workplace, you have to be savvy about which projects you accept and which you decline. But how do you know when to say yes, no, or maybe at work? Here are some basic guidelines for when and how to respond to new opportunities for collaboration.


Say no at the right time, for the right reasons

Saying no doesn’t necessarily mean the end of a potential collaboration. A well-timed no, given at the right time, for the right reasons, is always a gift. It’s always better not to waste someone’s valuable time if you are tempted to say yes, when you should really be saying no.

So, make it clear.
No . . .
. . . I physically cannot do it because I don’t have the necessary experience, skill, knowledge, time, or tools. Allow me to introduce you to another go-to person who can help.
. . . I am not allowed to do it because it is against the law, rules, procedures, or marching orders from my boss. Allow me to recommend a go-to person to learn more about this.
. . . I should not do it, at least right now, because there are other items higher on my current priority list, I don’t think it’s a good idea, or the ask is still not sufficiently clear. Allow me to introduce you to another go-to person. Or, perhaps we can return to this discussion at a later date or time.
Remember, sometimes saying “not yet” is better than “no”:
Not yet, but I can do this in two days . . . or two weeks . . . or two months . . . or two years.


If you say maybe, keep it specific

Sometimes the answer is maybe, and . . .
. . . May I ask you some questions to better understand exactly what you need?
. . . Help me to understand if I’m the one who can help you meet your needs on time and on spec in this case, or if I need to help you find someone else who can.


Remember that saying yes is a commitment

When saying yes at the beginning of a collaboration, make it clear you are serious about the commitment you’re making.
Yes . . .
. . . How can I help you help me help you? What information can I provide about how I do what I do?
. . . I’ll do abc by this date or time, and you do xyz by this date or time. Let’s talk again for a fifteen-minute check-in at the end of the day Thursday. How does that sound?


Want more tips like this?

Find more insight, advice, and tips like this in The Art of Being Indispensable at Work.

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