When I talk to people about some of the traits that are typical in an Assistant there are two that come up quite often. They are people pleasers and pretty agreeable types. They are doers who take on lots of different projects and manage lots of different tasks. They will usually say yes more often than they say no. Sound familiar? It is certainly true that saying ‘yes’ can have an amazing impact on our careers and can lead to amazing opportunities. However, the question in today’s blog post is ‘should you say no more often?

This question is something that has come up quite a bit in our recent series of events. The idea of pushing back on work and saying no is a tricky subject for Assistants. Our role is so much about helping and supporting our Executives, teams and organisation that it just doesn’t seem in our nature to say no. But, at the same time a lot of us are overworked, a lot of us try to do everything and find ourselves not being as productive as we could be and a lot of us are doing tasks that other people should be doing when we could be concentrating on more interesting and strategic projects. So, saying no isn’t necessarily a bad thing and here is why…

Successful people say no

Think about it. How often do you hear your Executive say no? How often do you say no on their behalf? All the time right? Successful people have no issue with saying no. They most definitely say no more than yes, they don’t soften the blow and they don’t worry about offending or hurting anyone. Why is this? Because they know their objectives, they have a goal and they have a clear strategic path that they are following towards success. If somebody asks something of them that doesn’t fit within their strategic aims, they simply say no.

Who should you be saying no to?

Who should you say no to and how should you say it? This is something that Assistants need to take a stand on. For me, I wouldn’t say no to my Executive. A huge part of the role is supporting their needs and anything that needs to be done should be done in support of their objectives. Obviously, it is up to you when you deal with their requests and how you priorities their needs, but I would say you have to do as much as you can to support them.

For me, saying no starts with colleagues and team members. As an EA I got a lot of requests for my time. I was asked to help with all sorts of things and often I had to say no for two reasons. Firstly, because I didn’t have the capacity to do the work and secondly, I had set some boundaries around what my role meant to me. I was there to make my Executive productive first and foremost, so all of my work was geared towards their success and that of the organisation. This meant that my role didn’t involve doing other people’s admin and taking on tasks that took time away from things I really wanted to be involved in. Saying that, I was a team player and if I wanted to help someone I would. Or I would come back to them when I had time – if they asked nicely!

For me saying no is absolutely part of the role. Saying no to people who wanted my Executive’s time and saying no to people who wanted my time!

Understand why you are saying no

Your role is strategic. You are there to help your Executive execute success. So, you can not be doing work that does not reflect those goals. If, for example, someone asks you to help them with an administrative task they should be doing themselves. Yes, you could be helpful and do it for them, and if you have the time go ahead and give them a hand. If, on the other hand, you are mega busy with a report that you need to get to your boss for their 3.30pm meeting, you have to push back and say no.

Getting the balance right

I think it is worth noting that as an Assistant you have to get the balance right. If you are an EA that says no to EVERYTHING. Then of course you are going to develop a reputation that is frankly far from helpful. That is not what you want. As the saying goes, we are all in this together, and everyone in your organisation will need a hand every now and again. Remember saying yes (to the right stuff) can lead to some pretty awesome experiences too. So, pick your yes’s and your no’s carefully. Saying no a little more often – if you say yes a lot – will be good for you. Think of all the extra time, think of all the tasks that have been on your to do list and think of how much extra support you can give your Executive?

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