CHRISTINE LIU: Oh, God. Was I like– was I OK? I was, like, blacked out the entire time. Saying no at work is hard. Like when your boss asks you to maybe stay late or over the weekend or you’re asked to be pulled into a project that really you shouldn’t be working on, any other things that you’re just, like, why are you asking to do this? I’m really good at saying no in my head, but then actually saying it in an effective and productive way, I don’t think so. First, I want to see how I say no for real. What we’re going to do is my co-producer, Andy, is going to give me some scenarios, and my one job is to say no to them. This is definitely live. I don’t know what these questions are. I’m a little nervous. So please be easy on me, Andy. But, yeah, I’m going to try my best to do the task at hand, which is saying no. OK. Well it sounds like there’s a lot of work that needs to be done between now and the Monday meeting. It seems a little unreasonable, and I want to do the best job to do this presentation. If it’s fixed and we have to do it at 9:00 AM on Monday, I totally understand. Maybe I can just stay late or honestly I might– I have to be perfectly honest. I am just full up this week and the next. I’m not sure when you want me to start, but given everything static, I don’t think I can take this on. But it does sound interesting and new and exciting, so maybe we can work together to see how I could make this work This is hard. I had made preparations for this meeting and for the agenda. However, I wasn’t anticipating that I would be taking notes. I am willing to contribute. I just wasn’t prepared, so unfortunately I am not in a position to take notes, but maybe next time. Just give me a heads up first. So how did I think I did? Clearly, after that exercise, I know that I have room for improvement. So I’m just– like, who out there is the expert on saying no? I really want to talk to them because I have so many questions, and I just don’t want to feel as stressed out as I do at this moment. RUCHIKA TULSHYAN: I think the earlier career you are, the harder it is obviously, and with more practice you just get better. And I’m definitely better at saying no now than I used to be. CHRISTINE LIU: That’s Ruchika Tulshyan. She wrote The Diversity Advantage, and she’s deeply passionate about creating equitable workplaces. So how do I get better? How would you advise I practice saying no? What are the pieces? RUCHIKA TULSHYAN: First, consider the request and evaluate whether you can do it. Is it important for your career? And then secondly, acknowledge and thank your manager for thinking of you. Again, this will help safeguard being sort of branded as someone who’s not a team player or difficult. Then use evidence to say no. For example, “I need this time that you’ve asked of me to work on X and, therefore, I won’t be able to do Y.” And be really firm. One must really reinforce or renegotiate, so one of the two. Right? So either get your manager to agree. Reinforce your no and say, “Thanks again for asking me. As I said, I’ll be really tied up doing X, and do you agree that I should really prioritize this?” Or renegotiate with them. Say, “If there’s absolutely no way that this project or this request can wait, let’s renegotiate what needs to be put on the back burner so that I can prioritize this request.” CHRISTINE LIU: Ruchika gave me a really good framework for how to say no, even in those really tough moments. She also told me that it’s really helpful to have a good relationship with your boss because if that’s there, then you’ll probably have a great, productive conversation. And unfortunately the data shows this. The concept of saying no is especially challenging for people of color and women at work. RUCHIKA TULSHYAN: This is tricky because there are minefields that you’re navigating because if you say no outright or you don’t seem grateful, research shows that women and, again, especially women of color, are penalized for appearing not grateful or not thankful for the opportunities that come their way. CHRISTINE LIU: OK. Now it’s time to practice. All right. Let’s go. OK. So the four components are one, consider. Make those mental calculations before I start blabbing my mouth. Acknowledge and think. So I think I’m pretty good at that, but I could work on just making sure it feels sincere. It doesn’t feel backhanded, like, thanks but no thanks. Use data or evidence. So saying, “Oh, that’s so–” “I just wanted to let you know I did it four times last meeting.” And the last one is reinforce or renegotiate. “As I said, I have most of my hours– or I have my hours next week allocated to these three projects. OK. I understand it’s important. Can you help me? I need– can you help me because I would need to take something just a little bit off my plate. And then we can get this done. Yeah?” OK. OK. So I did some practice, and I think that I’m ready to go. I’m going to be really prepared when my producer, Andy, gives me the prompts and scenarios that he did before. Let’s go. MAUREEN HOCH: Surprise! CHRISTINE LIU: That’s Maureen. She’s my actual boss in real life. She’s the editor of HBR.org, and she oversees a lot of people. So I thought I was just going to be talking with Andy, my producer, but to see her appear on my screen. It’s just– I’m– this is a true test. MAUREEN HOCH: We have some more projects on our plate that we really need your help on, so can you take on a few extra things right now? CHRISTINE LIU: So I totally get it. Fall is crazy. And I am really excited that you thought of me to consider these projects and work on them. So first of all, I just wanted to see how this fits in with the rest of the work that I’ve been assigned to do and I’m motivated to do. So for now I feel like my work is full. But if this is a shift in priorities, I would have to take something off my plate to do this. But it sounds really exciting. MAUREEN HOCH: Well, I totally get that, but unfortunately I don’t think there’s anything that we would be able to take off your plate. Maybe we just need to work on your time management a little bit more. CHRISTINE LIU: I thought things were going pretty well with Maureen, but then she really just dug in. I really don’t want to risk burning out because I know that it will be bad going forward. And I want to preserve myself, especially during these times that we’re really busy. MAUREEN HOCH: So you’re a go-getter, and these are important projects to the company. So wouldn’t she just want to take them on? They’re sort of important projects. CHRISTINE LIU: I don’t want to say no, but I’m just concerned about my performance. And I hope that you can agree that that’s important as well. So let’s just talk about it later. MAUREEN HOCH: OK. Yeah. And I want you to be able to do your best work, so let’s talk about your priorities later. CHRISTINE LIU: That was a little intense. Oh, God. Was I like– was I OK? I was, like, blacked out the entire time. And I definitely know that I can certainly improve. It just takes dedication and confidence and practice to feel assured that I can say no. It was really interesting to hear her perspective and point-of-view of being a manager and having to, unfortunately, make those types of asks. MAUREEN HOCH: Was that hardball? I felt like it wasn’t even that much a hardball. CHRISTINE LIU: How would you consider that I did in the moment? MAUREEN HOCH: The people that I have observed who are most effective of saying no, this is probably feedback I’d give you, is to just say it confidently. Sometimes it seemed like you were almost talking yourself into saying no. And I totally relate to that. CHRISTINE LIU: At the end of the day, if you have a good, healthy relationship with your boss, then they should be able to work with you when you come to them with a reasonable no. MAUREEN HOCH: I think it helps knowing that your manager or any other people around you just have your back when you’re trying to get these things done and that there’s no, like I said, no consequence for saying, “Hey. Time out. This is too much.” CHRISTINE LIU: If you’re still watching, one, thank you. But, two, I’m really curious. What do you want me to explore? What problems do you have at work? I’d love to solve them. Please leave a comment. I’d love to hear your thoughts. And if you have any other ideas, throw them my way. All right. Peace out.
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