In a quote often attributed to actress Lucille Ball, an old proverb says, "If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it." In healthcare, we are often faced with the challenge of competing priorities. Many people want our time, both at work and at home.
Healthcare professionals have a strong sense of duty. We have a culture of meeting or exceeding customer expectations, so saying "no" is not in our vocabulary. We strive to find ways to accomplish all that is requested of us. As we all know, it is impossible to do everything. Learning to say "no" can help us better manage our time and avoid that "burned-out" feeling.
A 'Yes' Culture
We are brought up to say "yes" to requests. For many reasons, we say "yes" to requests we do not want to do:
- We enjoy feeling indispensible. We hold a, "No one can do the job as well as I can," mentality.
- We are nice and do not want to hurt someone's feelings. We feel guilty when we say "no."
- We are afraid of being considered expendable.
- We are concerned we will be missing a great opportunity by turning a request down.
However, when we say "yes" to requests, we let others control our time. The goals we have, such as revising that procedure or going to that soccer game, often are not completed. Time is like money-be careful how you spend it. Remember that by saying "yes" to a request, it means you need to say "no" to something else that is important.
A Poor Performance Helps No One
It is difficult to know when you should say "no," but knowing when to decline is useful in accomplishing your job. Say "no" when you do not have the time to accomplish the job well. If you do not have time to perform the task well and meet deadlines, accepting the task helps no one.
Your response to a request is frequently based on who is making the request. When your boss asks you to accept a new assignment, be prepared to discuss what impact this assignment will have on the other tasks you must accomplish.
Saying "yes" too often has a negative consequence, both professionally and physically. By not meeting our work assignments, we compromise the mission of the facility as well as our personal success. Reliability and meeting deadlines are critical components to the hospital's success. Your workplace reputation can be damaged by agreeing to do a task that keeps you from doing your primary job.
Another area affected by not saying "no" to some tasks is your physical and mental health. Sleep and recreation are areas often sacrificed to accomplish the additional duties. We all know a workaholic who cannot say "no" and, as a result, has compromised health and family. Understand what is important to you and make certain that you allow time for those important goals.
How you say "no" can help prevent conflicts. Be selective with "yes." If you do not have time to do a project, be honest and say so. In many cases, you do not have to give an explanation. "Thanks for the offer, but I cannot do that at this time." Respond thoughtfully and graciously, not emotionally. Stick to your guns when you say "no." If you do give reasons when you decline, do not argue or debate those reasons. If you are undecided about accepting the offer, buy some time to think it over. Do not say "maybe" if you mean "no." This response only postpones the decision.
Never make a promise to do something and not keep that promise. Realize that there is a third option when asked to perform a task. Counterproposals and trade-offs are a good way to assess the situation. If your boss asks you to accept an additional duty, discuss with her what other project or task would suffer or be postponed. Most people appreciate honesty and want to hear from you if a new task will prevent you from accomplishing your other job duties.
Your time is a resource, be certain you use it wisely.
John Shalkham is director, Office of Quality Assurance, Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene, and clinical assistant professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison.