The Can’t Say No Person has a hard time saying no, especially as it relates to work assignments. They will attempt to undertake any assignment, even those given to them by people other than their own boss.
Why would they do this? Some people really are afraid to say no. They are afraid to be seen as incompetent or unable to carry enough of the load. Some people simply do not know their limits, or worse, they ignore them.
In other situations, it is because the employee is a rookie on the team and doesn’t want to let the others down; for others it is a personality issue, or even the result of the culture they were raised in. In some cultures, saying no is highly discouraged. As a result, people raised in this environment have a hard time when it comes to balancing the work-load effectively.
In dealing with the “Can’t Say No” person, the first thing you want to do is to build a relationship with them. You need to earn their trust and get them to be comfortable with you. Then, let them know what you are concerned about.
Once you have built a good level of trust, you can begin by asking questions that are designed to help them understand that they are out of balance. Be careful, though, as they will often be very sensitive. In their mind, they are doing a really good thing. From their point of view, if they were not doing the work, it would not get accomplished. Quite often though, even if they do manage to complete all of the work that they have taken on, the quality of that work will suffer.
Occasionally you will find the “Can’t Say No” person who is able to accomplish all the work with an acceptable, and even excellent, quality level. The problem here is that rarely will they be able to maintain that momentum, and they will eventually burn out. At that point, they will be of no use to the team, but more importantly, they will have done harm to themselves. Recovery from a true burnout stage is more than difficult. Our goal is to prevent the “Can’t Say No” person from ever reaching anything close to that stage.
There are several things that you can do that will be helpful:
- You can make suggestions for alternatives; there may be many people who can do the work that they have taken on, but they will not see that. You can be their sanity checker.
- If you are their boss, you may need to become their work filter. You will tell them that they are only allowed to take on work assignments that are passed through you. No one is allowed to give them an assignment that does not come by your desk first. They will resist this, because they will feel it to be an embarrassment. They will try to stall you and put you off. Just be firm, and reassure them that things will be fine, but they must continue to trust you.
- You can do a workload histogram to show them exactly how much work they have been doing. This will show them exactly how much they have been out of balance.
Bringing the “Can’t Say No” person in balance is a series of baby steps. You’ll have to stay on top of the situation, continually getting agreement that this is the best approach. They must learn that it’s okay to say no, at times, and the world really will continue. The work really will get done.