October 26, 2010

Say Yes to Everything? No thanks.

I'm back today after a little hiatus from this blog to take opposition to something you hear a lot of people say in terms of getting ahead - say yes to every opportunity that comes your way... I've heard it over and over and agreed with it for a long time. It got so bad that contrary to most people where "THE" is their most used word, I sometimes think that "YES" is mine...

Now, in certain instances, I think saying yes to everything makes sense. To someone who's just getting out of school and needs to make an impression on their new boss, saying yes to every opportunity to make that impression makes sense. In fact, in a story that we did in our about to be released magazine at my organization, one of our members who is giving advice to our undergraduates says, "Say “Yes” to everything, no matter how menial the task. If you complete it quicker than expected and better than expected, the requests from others will increase and your credibility will rise."

I agree for the most part to his analysis.

But here's where I disagree: what if you say yes to so many things that you don't get things done quicker and better than expected? What if by saying yes to everything, you actually stretch yourself too thin and aren't able to be the best professional you can be?

Not only that, but as someone who is now pretty established in my career and who is craving work-life balance, I think this advice to say yes to everything is flawed. As I said earlier, I have been saying yes to just about everything for a long time.

Because of this, I'm now serving on four committees for professional development and volunteer organizations, each with its own conference call and other responsibilities. I'm someone who likes to be involved and be seen as a leader in a lot of different things, and I don't want this to seem like I don't appreciate the opportunities to lead. However, saying yes to all of these things has really cramped my ability to be the best volunteer, employee, husband, and soon-to-be father that I can be... It's time for me to step back and learn how to say no.

So I guess if an undergraduate asked me what my advice would be to them, I'd say "Don't be afraid to say yes often, but learn how to say no, now. You can thank me later."

Thanks as always for reading. I hope you'll add your thoughts to the comments...


Bruce Hammond said...

I guess what it comes down to is being able to prioritize. Saying yes is ok if you can prioritize what will get your time...

Maddie Grant said...

Love this post. Funnily enough Lindy and I talk about this a lot - we have a really amazing partnership, partly because she tempers my tendency to say yes to everyone, but equally on the other hand I show her opportunities she might have passed on at first glance. We all need a good balance...! And I'm still learning how to say no. Only now, I think to myself, "what would Lindy say to this?"... and if I think, "she would say no, but it's worth having a good counterargument" - then it's probably worth it. :)

David M. Patt, CAE said...

Great post, Bruce. It really comes down to making practical decisions. Say yes to what can be done well, and no to what can't.

Doing a good job at a few things is better than doing a mediocre job at a lot of things.

Maggie McGary said...

I'm very careful with my time and regretfully turn down a lot of cool opportunities--and I STILL feel stretched too thin! For me it's a constant struggle to remember my most important commitment: my family, and have to opt out of things that could advance my career and/or be great fun or learning experiences. When I feel disappointed that I have to turn stuff down, I just remind myself that I won't always be this busy and there will be other cool opportunities in the future.

Jeffrey Cufaude said...

Saying yes to everything almost implies we're willing to do anything. And even if we're willing it doesn't mean we're able.

One of my mentors instilled the opposite advice. She said that people who do good work and are genorous towards others will always have more opportunities presented to them then they should accept. No need to worry about saying no to one (eve if it is a good fit) because another will soon be at your door.

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