Monday, 12 September 2016

Why I'm glad I said yes to facilitating a workshop on saying no

On Sunday 11th September 2016 I facilitated a workshop on 'saying no' at a Girlguiding London and South East Region event called 'Use Your Voice', a democracy festival for members of the Senior Section (aged 14-24 years old). 

Across Girlguiding it is very common to find people wearing multiple hats. We like a badge in Girlguiding and some of us wear our multiple hats like a badge of honour. Taking on multiple roles and telling everyone how busy we are. I feel, on occasion, that if one or two of the multiple hat wearing people had said no to a job or two, there might be more opportunities for new/different people to get involved. I may have, on a few occasions, said this to a few people, one of whom, Helen Beecher Bryant was the lead volunteer for Use Your Voice. I also managed to do something that seems to have impressed people, in the world of Girlguiding, recently. I finished my term of office (as the Girlguiding LaSER lead volunteer for digital) and have not said yes to a new role.

So, when I was asked to facilitate a workshop on 'saying no', I started looking around to see what people much cleverer than me had to say about the subject. I came across this great quote from multi-bajillionaire Warren Buffet: 
“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”
That made a lot of sense to me, but it felt quite negative, so, I prefer this quote I found from Professor Adam Grant:
"Saying no frees you up to say yes when it matters most."
Smart chap. You can read more from him on LinkedIn: 8 Ways to Say No Without Ruining Your Reputation. When you think about saying no in that way, it becomes a positive, rather than a negative.

Do you know who this is? 

It's Marie Kondo the Japanese organizing consultant and author. Her decluttering and clothes folding ideas took the world by storm earlier this year. Watch on YouTube. She talks about when you're decluttering, you should look at your clothes and appraise each one on whether it brings you joy. As I was folding my clothes to her exact requirements, I was thinking, that applies to this 'saying no' workshop. When you're trying to decide whether to say yes, or no to something, think about whether it will bring you joy. This isn't about saying no to everything, but deliberately saying no to things that don't bring you joy.

So, here are my top tips to think about when you're asked to do something.
  1. Does it even need to be done? How many things do we do, because that's just what we've always done? Before you even consider whether to do something, think about whether it actually needs to be done.
  2. Are you the person best suited to do it? Perhaps you know someone who would do a better job? Perhaps you don't actually have the skills or experience you need to do it.
  3. Do you have the time to do it properly? Sometimes, if you don't have time to do a really good job on something, you're better saying 'no' and giving someone else the opportunity to give it 100%.
  4. Is it something you're passionate about? Will it make you feel good? Does it bring you joy? Now, I'm not suggesting here that everything you do has to bring you personally joy. As we all know from Girlguiding sometimes you do something altruistic that gives someone else joy, and that's good. If you're asked to bake a cake for a bake sale, I'm not suggesting you say no because you won't get to eat a slice. If you'll get pleasure from watching someone else enjoy it, from the money raised, then that's worth doing. 

I asked the participants at the workshop to make two lists. I asked them to write a list of things that bring them joy. And a list of what they'd like to achieve in the next year. I explained that what I was asking was quite personal and maybe private, so no one had to share their list, unless they wanted to.

Once the lists were written, I asked the young women to highlight, or put a star, by the two or three most important things. Then to get into groups and discuss whether they should just focus on those few things they highlighted. Could they use the highlighted items as a guide to whether to say 'yes' or 'no' to something. If doesn't appear on your joy list, if it doesn't help you achieve the goals you have for the year ahead, should you just automatically say no? I asked them to discuss whether that would work for them? Or whether it might limit them?

The feedback from the groups was that they liked the idea of being focused, but not to such an extent that it might prevent them saying 'yes' to random serendipitous opportunities.

I then asked the group to give me examples of things they wished they'd said 'no' to... Being a commissioner (a Girlguiding role that involves overseeing all the rainbow, brownie, guide and senior section groups in an area, for example a district, or a county), babysitting cousins and being bouncer at a friends party. In each case we looked at why they ended up saying yes and why they regretted it:
  • Being told there is no one else to do it. The old classic, making someone feel guilty, so they'll help.
  • Being mislead about the amount of time/energy required to do the role. What I like to call: being sold a dud!
  • Being told you can share the job with someone else, but that not really working in practice.
Then it was time for role play (yippy!) The group practiced saying no to each other while not lying. I think that is really important. It's tempting when you're asked to do something you don't want to do to lie to get out of it. Actually, you should just be honest. Instead of saying "I can't" and listing a bunch of made up excuses, say "I won't" and don't necessarily feel the need to justify. Will you be district commissioner? I can't because I'm too busy, washing my hair, about to emigrate to Australia - all give the person asking an opportunity to try to persuade you otherwise. Thank you for asking, but I won't be able to. End of discussion?

Some of the questions from the young women resulted in a really lively discussion:

Do you always need to say sorry? Not necessarily. If you're genuinely not sorry, then don't say it. But do say no politely, unless you want to risk losing that person as a friend.

What if you say yes to something, but then change your mind and want to get out of it at short notice? The group agreed that actually, if you've said you'll do something, you shouldn't let people down at the last minute. 

Personally, I found the opportunity to talk to and work with such a switched-on, engaged and enthusiastic bunch of young women a real treat. What I hoped the workshop helped with, is not so much the actual saying no, but rather how best to identify what to say no to and empowering them to feel okay about saying no. So what do you think? Any top tips for saying no? Have you said 'no', so you're now free to say 'yes' to things that bring you joy?


  1. Love it and some very good advice from a fantastic woman who has said yes to working with me a couple of times, and so pleased you did. Hope you are too

    1. Awww, thanks for the comment. Saying 'yes' to working with you is never a difficult decision, because you're such a joy to work with.

  2. Aww right back at you, so pleased to work with you at anytime.