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The art of saying "no"

Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip.
Winston Churchill

The school library profession does not lack new job responsibilities. Everything from updating the school website to inventorying classroom instructional materials to managing student devices to teaching online learning resources, new tasks are often given to the librarian.

The difficult question then remains - just what has to leave our days in order for new "duties as assigned" to be slipped in. Or should we be better at saying no to new job responsibilities?

Before practicing saying no, we must take a good long look at the task we are being asked to perform. Taking on jobs nobody else can or is willing to do is a pretty good job retention strategy. If you take on the job of say, updating the school webpage and few other unpleasant tasks, when the principal needs to choose between cutting your position and the music teacher, she might reason "If I cut the librarian, I will need to find someone else to update the webpage. I will cut the music teacher instead." And remember my motto:

So let's say you've factored in the advisability of saying yes to the new task and you really don't see how you can accomplish one more thing. Here are some things I try to remember to do when I feel I must say no:

  • Start with "Anything is possible." Our right rejection of requests quickly earns you the reputation of a reactionary. "He's never tries anything new!" By starting the conversation with "anything is possible," the one doing the requesting knows that your eventual decision was not a foregone conclusion. And who knows, the discussion might change your "no" to an enthusiastic "yes."
  • Suggest an alternative. Often the need is legitimate. But the proposed solution is not practical. You can get a reputation as a problem-solver by helping the person in need solve his/her problem even when you can't support the original solution.
  • I ask for a priority judgement. "Sure, I can teach students how to use the new learning management system as a part of my information literacy curriculum. However I only meet with students for six hours and here are the current outcomes. Would you help me determine which ones I need to eliminate in order to accommodate the new lessons?" If doing a new thing results in something else going undone, a full understanding of the trade-off is essential.
  • I express regret. I have problems with people who say no with great glee. It's a cheap form showing power and that power usually tends to be petty. Real power comes from making things happen, not keeping them from happening.

I had practice over the past couple weeks practicing the fine art of saying no. Regretfully, I had to turn down a speaking engagement in Hawaii (no vacation days uncommitted in my 2017-18 calendar already) and to contribute to a YA podcast (not my area of expertise). At the day job, I regularly must tell others "no" due to a lack of time, money, or necessity. And sometimes just because the suggested project is not real smart. And the worst job of all is telling someone who applied for a job that another candidate was chosen. I really hate saying no to hopeful people.

But it doesn't hurt quite so much if I can do it well.


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Reader Comments (1)

Hey, Doug Johnson, saying no is hard. But there are some tricky ways to avoid! No one will like to hear "NO" . But sometime we seriously need to say that. I will never agree if I can't it, though luck does always go in favour! Great writing. Thanks.

May 23, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSteven Coleman

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