Many IT professionals believe they have difficulty in saying “No” to others.  In fact, when an IT expert is asked he knows when and how to say “No’, the typical response seems to be a Decision cubesigh and a slow shaking of the head from side to side.  And this response isn’t limited to staff in a specific area or level of IT – it occurs from top to bottom throughout the department.

It’s interesting that I’ve even asked personnel from other areas of the business, and they agree that IT often doesn’t know when and how to say “No”.

Go ahead and ask the IT professionals at your company.  What response do they give?

So are IT folks like Ado Annie who “cain’t say no” when a ‘feller’ tries to kiss her in the play Oklahoma?  While she knows she should refuse, she somehow wants to kiss him back?

I’m not sure I would go that far with it, but the truth is that IT professionals really do want to please others by providing good service (Often, though, they don’t truly seem to understand how to provide good service, but that’s a topic for another day).  They are also often overly optimistic in their initial assessment of how quickly a task can be done.  This can cause them, for example, to try to squeeze another modification into a previously planned project without assessing its potential impact on the delivery date.  And honestly, they are sometimes afraid of the consequences of saying ‘no’ to the wrong person.

This difficulty in knowing when to say “No” creates a number of issues ranging from excessive overtime to failure to meet deadlines to reduced quality.  It leads to frustration with and within the IT department.

But understanding how to say “No” is perhaps even more important than the when.

Here are a few tips

  • Do it in person ….or at least over the phone
  • Acknowledge the importance of what is being asked
  • Ask questions to understand exactly what is being requested
  • If you need time to check things out before answering, tell them that.  Just be sure to set their expectation as to when you will respond.
  • Explain the reason.  It absolutely doesn’t work well just to say “That’s not our standard.”  Help them understand the reason behind the standard.
  • Consider the tone and words you use.  There is a difference in perception when someone glumly responds, “Nah.  I’ve got way too much to do so I can’t get to you until Tuesday” vs. someone excitedly saying, “Great news!  I’ve got an opening on Tuesday!”
  • Offer alternatives
    • “I can’t do that, but what I can do is…”
    • “Would it work for you if we do this part by that date & then finish the rest after that?”

Obviously there are times that IT must tell someone “No”.  What are some of those times?  And what would you say to IT professionals to help them understand when and how to say “No”?

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