Just say no scratched into tree

Pracademics. #Saying No

This was going to be a very different post.

Inspired by a comment on the last Pracademics post on Time Management, this post on Saying No was going to cover, in rough order –

How it’s sometimes very easy to actually say no (‘No’) and mean it, but it’s a challenge managing the consequences of No, not just with respect to managing time but also relationships, at work and elsewhere.

How difficult it can be to say No in the workplace, especially when that No feels deeply related to your actual place in-and-at that workplace; to how established you are in your career; to your position or job title; or how secure your job is; how ongoing or long-term (or more so, short-term) your work contract is. How much your ability to and capacity for No in the workplace is linked to your employment, unemployment, income. Your present and future capacity to support yourself and the people depending on you.

The original post was going to make the point that in the modern (university) workplace, No is never a complete sentence; that if anything, it’s “No/t now, but later?” Or “No, that should be ok. Leave it with me” or “No problem”.

It was going to cover how I can’t say No to anything in the workplace (I really can’t. That’s why I’m on my forty-something-th job in a university, thirty-something of them in this university).

It was going to link to some very wise pracademic-applicable advice about No-ing in and out of the workplace by popular online advice bloggers. Like Ask A Manager’s Alison Green, who writes a column on everything and anything to do with working and be-ing in today’s workplaces (and as such, is recommended as an excellent source for any social researcher examining workplace cultures and relations). Green (posting here on Intuit QuickBase’s Fast Track blog) has some very pracademic advice for Nos At Work, or at least, for reasonably and professionally pushing back on work-related requests, such as:

1.     Get clear in your own head about what’s most important for you to achieve, and how much time it will take you to achieve it – and spend some time getting aligned with your manager about that.

2.     Have a “someday/maybe” list (being assertive enough to say “Not now, but I’ll put that down to address at a later date“)

3.     Be clear about trade-offs (for example, what won’t you be able to do if you say Yes)

4.     Pay attention to how people you admire say No (learn from a tactful expert)

5.     Keep your supervisors in the loop when you’re saying No or thinking about saying No (communication is key!)

Captain Awkward is another popular advice column founded and co-edited by Jennifer P. (who in a very pracademic way, has many day jobs and roles, including one teaching Film and Media studies in a university). I was going to quote from one of her pieces, “‘No thanks’ is not mean”:

…what happens if we try to make our “No thanks!” or “I prefer not to” responses super-brief and simple this week, without apology or justification? (If this is too difficult or daunting, start with being more assertive with “yes” and expressing positive preferences, like, “Yes, I would like my bagel toasted, thanks” [and] work up to “nope!” over time). Start with low-stakes things, keep track of how often you say no (or yes!), how it feels, what you feel like the pressures and worries are, and what actually happens when you do“.

So that was the post I was going to write.

But because I can’t say no, and specifically, to things that:

a) are work related
b) take up my time
c) are work projects that I am actually in a position to say no to, but critically
d) are projects that I don’t want to say no to because
e) I enjoy them and
f) they have long-term benefits that outweigh the short-term disadvantages, I’ve run out of time…

…and this is the post we’ve ended up with.

Sure, if a to f didn’t apply, and I had said No just once then this last weekend would not have been filled to the brim with:

  • Proof-reading articles for a special issue (of Australian Universities’ Review) that I am co-editing with Agnes Bosanquet and another colleague from the University of Wollongong due Tuesday. (This is the special issue, for those interested, and for those interested in what co-editing a special issue entails, here is this very timely post from the always-awesome Research Whisperer)
  • Revising an online research survey for an industry partner that is due Monday
  • Keeping track of online comments on the same sex marriage postal vote for an invited paper for another journal’s special issue
  • Pulling together this (very) Pracademic post on Saying No that was due last Wednesday and that was going to be very different to the post you are reading now.

Sure, I could have said No to all these.

All of these activities are work-related but not technically part of my day job.

All of these activities are taking up my time, time that would (should?) be spent attending to my ‘work-life balance’ (a phrase that makes no sense to me – work is not hyphened to life).

All of these activities are ones that I was in a position to say No but didn’t.

I said No to saying No.

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