The Auditor's Guide to: The Art of Saying 'No'
Published: 03 Feb 2011 By Carol McLachlan
Like all of us with internal audit jobs you were at your desk at 8am this morning ready to take on the day. All of a sudden it's noon and you’ve only ticked off two things from today’s ‘to do’ list... what happened?
Thanks to the stream of regular interruptions, telephone calls, and emails you have only had a few minutes to work on critical tasks. Everyone wants your time. People are interrupting you for your professional judgement, your IT expertise, the odd social catch up and updates on those project deadlines.
The art of saying ‘No’
As auditors, we take pride in our high standards of technical knowledge, professional service and conduct. Our culture encourages us to stretch ourselves... it is no surprise ‘No’ is often considered a dirty word?
An inability to say 'No' can detract you from your core goals and compromise your personal values. It can lead to emotional conflict – such as remorse and guilt. It can affect the quality of your work. It can cause you to miss deadlines and damaging your reputation and self confidence.
The audit industry nurtures a professional culture entrenched in client service. Auditors are people pleasers and we don’t want to appear selfish or unfeeling. However sometimes we are under stress to say ‘Yes’ when we would prefer to say ‘No’. Often we say ‘Yes’ so as not to offend or elicit resentment or disapproval.
In part, this arises from our lack of self-confidence and is often exacerbated by the environment we work in. Everyone will have their standard response to unsolicited or unwelcome requests - depending on unique professional and personal goals, value systems and relationships with and responsibilities towards stakeholders - the team, boss, family, friends and self.
We should be saying ‘No’ when a job is beyond our ability and we could potentially damage the quality of the work through inadequate experience or if we do not have time to complete the job to our full ability due to other work. Saying ‘Yes’ means you will have to say ‘No’ to something else.
How do I say 'No'?
There are a number of questions to ask yourself when you are deciding on whether you are going to take a task:
- Is there return on my personal investment in this activity?
- Does it tie in with my core goals, both business and personal.
- Is the task a priority over my other work? Remember 80% of our success comes from just 20% of our activities.
- How do those consequences affect my goals?
- What are the consequences of not doing it?
Your tone when you decline work must be firm. You should be convincing but not aggressive. Be assertive but also polite and respectful. Say ‘No’ and mean it.
Negotiation is also important particularly when you feel you don’t have the right to say ‘No’. Don’t make assumptions about the task before you decline. Use open questions to find out exactly what the job entails and its consequences.
In some cases you might still help without taking the whole task. If you cannot decline the task fully explain what your contribution could be under the current deadline. Asking for time to think and get back to the person requesting your time will allow you to respond effectively.
Practice saying ‘No’
Before you start saying ‘No’ with your clients & co-workers try it with your children, partner, friends and other non-work contacts. The art of saying 'No' is a transferable skill. The more you do it, the easier it becomes, you will eventually banish the taboo of saying ‘No’.
This article was written by Carol McLachlan, our Audit Agony Aunt.