Building Integrity By Saying “No”

This week’s post comes from Doug Post.


In Leading with Integrity we noted that integrity means, “I do what I say I’m going to do…every time.” We noted Michael Hyatt’s definition: honesty is making your words match reality; integrity is making reality match your words.

In Improving Integrity with Clear Expectations we considered:

           1. Recovery. When your “yes” turns out to be a “no,” acknowledge, apologize, and
           2. Clear Expectations and Commitments. Requests must be understood before
               we commit.

The third component to improving integrity is to Say “No.” 

It is important to learn that just because we can honor a request, doesn’t mean we should. Tim Harford notes, “Every time we say yes to a request, we are also saying no to anything else we might accomplish with the time.” It’s important to learn our personal limits so that we can appropriately balance and meet family, work, and social commitments — your own and your team’s!

This doesn’t mean saying “no” is easy. It’s difficult and awkward. Sometimes we’re considered unhelpful or incapable. Leading with integrity isn’t always easy in the short-term! Tim Harford continues:

        The present moment is exaggerated in our thoughts. When somebody asks, “Will you volunteer to be ________?” it is momentarily uncomfortable to refuse, even if it will save much more trouble later. To say “yes” is to warm ourselves in a brief glow of immediate gratitude, heedless of the later cost.
         A psychological tactic to get around this problem is to try to feel the pain of “yes” immediately, rather than at some point to be specified later. If only we could feel instantly and viscerally our eventual annoyance at having to keep our promises, we might make fewer foolish promises in the first place.
         One trick is to ask, “If I had to do this today, would I agree to it?” It’s not a bad rule of thumb, since any future commitment, no matter how far away it might be, will eventually become an imminent problem.
Remember to always validate the person or request (be nice) and to be assertive. Consider the following tactical options:*
            1. The awkward pause. Let silence to a request work in your favor.
            2. The soft “no” (or the “no but”). For example, “Not now, but once I’ve finished…”
                 or, Thanks for thinking of me, but I’m working on ‘xyz,’ and I’m not sure I can
                 commit to that right now.”
            3. “Let me check my calendar and get back to you.” or, “Let me think about it.”
                 Give yourself time to reflect and reply with integrity.
            4. Use e-mail bounce backs. Use automatic responses that say you’re on
                vacation or on a project.
            5. Say, “Yes. What should I deprioritize?”
            6. Say it with humor. A smile and a simple “Nope!” can carry the day.
            7. Use the words, “You are welcome to X. I am willing to Y.” For example, “You
                are welcome to borrow my car. I am willing to make sure the keys are here for
                you.” With this answer you are also saying, “I won’t be able to drive you.”
            8. “I can’t do it, but X might be interested.” You’re not invaluable. Offer an
                 alternative person or date.
Saying “no” well will take practice. But it is worth it — building integrity requires “no” to be our most common response.

Let’s review what we’ve learned on building integrity with others: (1) learn to recover from integrity breaches, (2) share clear expectations and commitments, and (3) develop the ability to say “no.”

How do you struggle with building integrity and saying “no”? What helps you improve and build integrity?

Continue Leading the Interstates Way!

Doug Post
Sources: *Condensed from “Dare: The Power of a Graceful ‘No’,” chp. 11 in Essentialism by Greg McKeown


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