The positives gained from saying no

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Last time I wrote about democratic leadership and decision-making, which is a really important skill in any leaders’ tool-box.  Some of you have pointed out the importance of leaders also being able to make a decision themselves and in isolation; on behalf of the team or organisation.  I agree, it is another essential task of the leader, and something we can help children to achieve as well.

The ability to decide is key.  On many occasions, not all, this boils down to a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’.  It occurs to me it is much easier to say yes than it is to say no.  Admit it, how many times have you said yes because it is easier than saying no?  Only to instantly regret you hadn’t the courage to go with your instinct and say no?  We can all find ourselves in these situations regularly, I’m thinking of the times when I’ve agreed to do a difficult task for someone (when I was already feeling stretched and overwhelmed), or I was covering a challenging meeting or conversation – rather than supporting others to do it themselves.

Some of us clearly need to learn how to say ‘no’, and discover the positive benefits it provides.  Instead of it being anxiety provoking and difficult; saying no can be empowering for us and our colleagues.  Saying ‘no’ can unlock the door to all our personal and professional health and well-being.  It is the ultimate in an open and honest communication.

It isn’t always easy though.  We can feel pressure to say yes, especially if asked by an expert negotiator or sales person.  And if our self-esteem is low, or we need to improve our assertiveness it’s especially difficult.  And in early years we are all very aware of the principle of doing no harm to others, so saying yes can feel like we are doing a good thing.  We worry if people will be upset or even dislike us for our refusal.  And all of this is affected by our feelings towards the people involved; it’s easier to say no to people we don’t like; we are more likely to say yes to those we do.

It’s such a personal process.  No one else knows us better than ourselves, so we need to be in control of our boundaries so we don’t become a victim to making the wrong decision.  We risk raising our stress levels and exhaustion; but in terms of our management skills – we are compromising our own time management and delegation skills.  What are your colleagues learning about you, themselves and about work itself if you don’t say no?  I’ve worked in too many situations when I have seen an improper emphasis on a ‘yes-culture’, and this damages people – it teaches them that to survive or to have value you should say yes all of the time.  That is unsustainable.

By saying no, we are providing good role modelling, and a vital demonstration of personal and professional capability for our colleagues and children alike – who will all benefit from learning this vital skill from you – the expert in open and honest decision-making!

A version of this blog is based on an article first published in Teach Early Years Magazine.

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