We all want to be helpful, and in many cases, compliance professionals have been conditioned to say yes (if only to avoid hanging a negative perception on the department). But saying yes when you really cannot or do not want to do something does more harm than good in the long run.
For years, compliance leaders have been told to avoid becoming the “Department of No,” that everyone should find ways to get to “Yes” or “Yes, and.” The stigma associated with saying no has seemed to suggest you aren’t being creative enough or have somehow been found lacking in agreeability if you say no.
The reality is that “No” is a perfect response at times and could even constitute full sentence. It doesn’t require further explanation or guilt. In both our careers and personal lives, we all need to use no tactically to establish appropriate boundaries and pursue our priorities. Each of us has just 24 hours in a day, and we must make choices.
Using no sparingly or with long-winded explanations needlessly complicates what you’re trying to say, and it makes it difficult to appropriately establish clear and effective boundaries. When you say no, you are preserving priorities and making space for the things that you can enthusiastically say yes to. No is the anchor for everything that we want or need to say yes to.
Compliance professionals are trained early on to take on an inordinate amount of responsibility for the outcomes and behaviors of others. This often leads to professionals having ever-expanding roles where “other duties as assigned” continue to expand exponentially. Culturally, many corporations value the perception of busyness, and we are rewarded for seeming to appear overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of our responsibilities.
When we do say no, there is regularly disappointment and pressure to provide a reason why the answer wasn’t different. Because of the responsibility that compliance professionals feel to manage as much as possible, they often feel the need to explain or justify an unfavorable response. However, saying no and not following it up with an explanation can be a perfectly acceptable way to address a request that doesn’t align with your priorities, needs and goals.
As we enter a new year, consider these three ways to add no more forcefully to your vocabulary.
Create a chuck-it list
All too often, new years are synonymous with New Year’s resolutions or bucket lists. Instead of a bucket list of things you want to do in the year or in your lifetime, find a chuck-it list of all the things you are getting rid of in the new year. Things on your list could include people-pleasing, committing to things you don’t really want to do or any of a number of obligations that don’t serve your high priority goals.
Find ways to politely and creatively say no when you need to
Sometimes just saying no can seem rude or dismissive. If this is the case, there are many ways to creatively say no without seeming callous. You can be truthful about your priorities and the need to focus your energy. You can also say something like, “I’m flattered by the request, but my plate is full.” Another tactic is to focus on what you are doing rather than what you are not, but make sure it is aligned to your priorities.
Practice saying no
Practice makes perfect in most things. If saying no doesn’t come naturally to you, practice in front of a mirror. Start with yourself and saying no to the things that are not serving you well. For example, ditch the notifications on your phone that interrupt you during the day and learn to delay gratification.
Making way for the things you want in your life by declining or saying no to the things that aren’t aligned to you personally, with your career or with your corporate goals will make room the things you enthusiastically want to pursue. Give it a try before saying no.