Know Your Options: Yes, No and “24 Hours”

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We’ve all worked with the person who never, ever says “No.”  You know the guy; he cheerfully says, “Yes!” to every request….then finds himself snowed under and in a terrible mood when all the bills come due, working long hours, not responding to emails or voice mails and all too often, not delivering.  This career-limiting approach damages your reputation and the reputations of anyone who needed you to keep your commitments in order to deliver on their commitments.

When you get a request, you have three options: “Yes,” “No,” and “Give me ’24’ hours.”  Let’s take a look at each:


All of us want to say ‘yes’ to most requests.  Part of this is the drive to add value and the other is the desire to be seen as someone who is part of the team and who doesn’t play “not my job.”  However, “Yes” is a one way answer.  Once you’ve said it, you now have to deliver and there will be little that your boss can do to get you out of the particular corner in which you’ve painted yourself.  This doesn’t mean you should never say ‘Yes’; rather, this means that when you DO say “Yes,” make damn sure you have the bandwidth, resources and knowledge to deliver on your commitment.  You, your brand and your stakeholder(s) are all at stake.

For those of us with teams, a “yes” often times means committing your team to work that THEY may not have the bandwidth to deliver.  In this case, go with the “24 Hours” approach, letting the requestor know that you will talk with your team and get back to them on if/when you can deliver on their request.  Don’t “yes” your team into a commitment on which they can’t deliver (and thanks to Morgan Hunter who posts at Lotus MBA for this important reminder).


We rarely like to refuse a request at work.  As above, this comes from our desire to add value and to be viewed as someone who is an active contributor to the business.  However, sometimes “No” is the right answer – particularly if you don’t have the bandwidth or resources to deliver.  This is where having a clear, strategic agenda pays off.  You can ask yourself if fulfilling the request will also provide an opportunity to move the ball forward in advance of your or your team’s strategic goals.  Further, you can always backtrack from “No.”

When you have to say “No,” include a “but.”  Here’s what I mean; if you cannot fulfill the request yourself, you have the option of connecting the requestor with someone else who can fulfill their request.  This way, you add value by connecting the requestor to a resource who is able to help out.   Now, please don’t make the mistake of saying something like, “I think Joe can do that – let me check with him.”  Although you didn’t necessarily make a commitment on Joe’s behalf, you DID mention his name in relation to the request and if he can’t deliver…..well, you get my point.  No names until you’ve checked with “Joe.”

Make a point of following up with the requestor to make sure your referral was able to help.  Also, if “Joe” says “Yes,” follow-up with Joe, too.


If you think you may be able to deliver on the request, but you don’t have enough information to give a definitive “yes” or “no,” ask if you can get back to the requestor in a specified amount of time (“24 hours” is just an example).  Keep the timeframe minimal and make sure you remember to get back to the requestor within the timeframe that you have set.

Refer to Options 1 or 2 once you give your answer, and be clear if there are any contingencies in your response (especially if your “Yes” relies on someone else to deliver something first).


Ultimately, we all want to add value at work and to enjoy a well-earned reputation for being a reliable and consistent member of the team.  This doesn’t necessarily mean saying “Yes,” to everything, but it does require you to clearly judge your ability to fulfill a request to meet or exceed the requestor’s expectations and being very clear about your answer.  Also, “No” and “24 Hours” provide your boss with some options if you run into trouble, but “Yes” is “Yes;” you have to deliver.  Be honest, be practical and be consistent.

© 2011, Mark E. Calabrese

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