Pittsburgh Emerging Arts Leaders Network

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Just Say No

This is not a campaign against drugs…but then again, while I’m here, don’t do drugs ūüėČ

The struggle with saying no is a really interesting and relevant topic to me.

As an individual, I enjoy being needed and appreciated so if someone asks something of me, I am inclined to say yes without considering if that’s really a smart choice.

As a burgeoning small business owner, it’s really tempting to take business that isn’t a good fit for our brand and how we do business, because “well, at least it is some money instead of no money.”

As a non-profit arts administrator in a small yet multi-faceted organization with limited resources, I want everyone to love my organization as much as I do and fear that saying no can engender ill will in the community.

In all three of these cases (though I plan to focus mostly on the non-profit arts organization for this blog), learning to say no is so important. ¬†Why? Self/business/organizational preservation. ¬†Just as we talk about work/life balance all the time among arts workers (perhaps it will be featured in an upcoming blog post,) we have to apply the same principle to businesses and organizations. ¬†When it really comes down to it work/life balance is all about managing resources: time, energy, etc. ¬†And as we all know, organizations have resources too. ¬†There’s only so much time in a work day, there’s only so many employees, there’s only so much money, and so on.

So when a request for a favor, a potential collaboration, or donation inquiry comes across my desk, how do I go about deciding to say yes or no? ¬†I want to ensure that every time we say yes to something that the result will be of some value to the organization. ¬†That value doesn’t have to always be monetary. ¬†Value can be found in new connections, community good will, and of course, strengthening the mission, among others.

What is valuable, how valuable it is and if it is valuable¬†enough¬†has to be determined by each organization. ¬†In our case, we’re one year into a new five-year strategic plan, so much of our discussion on these items revolves around the question of whether or not “this” will help us achieve one of the major goals in the plan. ¬†But for other organizations, that evaluative process might be very different–your organization might need cold hard cash to make something worthwhile, or butts in seats. ¬†Again, every organization is different, assigns value differently and therefore has different reasons for saying yes or no to the opportunities it’s presented with.

The key is having some system in place to evaluate on your value criteria. ¬†If you don’t have any process in place, every time a question presents itself, it’s just overwhelming and stressful and adds to the difficulties in saying no.

I’m a huge proponent of learning to say no, clearly and confidently. I’ll admit that I’m actually much better at it with my small business owner hat and non-profit administrator hat on that my personal life hat, but nobody’s perfect, right? ¬†And it wasn’t always easy–it’s definitely a learned skill.

As with many things in life, practice is key. ¬†I also find that having the evaluative system above as incredibly helpful in providing a reason for saying no. ¬†I feel much more confident telling someone, “thank you so much for this opportunity, but the glass center is not in a position to pursue this at this time” rather than just “no,” because I’ve actually done the work to determine that we’re not in the place to pursue this right now, or it’s not a good fit, it doesn’t align with our mission, or whatever other relevant determinations I make.

And since working on saying no can be tough, let’s have a little humor to wrap up. Whenever I think about saying no, this scene from 27 Dresses, where James Marsden’s character tries to help the people pleasing Jane (Katherine Heigl) to practice saying no.

So, let’s all take our inner people pleaser on a vacation for a few weeks and just say no.

Do you have a hard time saying no?  Do you have particular strategies to deal with it at work?

Sam Laffey is the Marketing Associate at Pittsburgh Glass Center and a partner at Porter Loves Photography.  She is always looking for groovy patterns, cute puppy dogs and all things green.  She can be found on a myriad of social media platforms, including Twitter @samlaffey.

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