Chronicle Vitae – The Art of ‘No’

This is some good advice on the need to, and how to, say ‘no’ to some of the requests that come your way.

Early in my career, I struggled to say no. I was asked to serve on committee after committee, to evaluate fistfuls of manuscripts and grants, and to perform dozens of other tasks, large and small. I said yes willy-nilly — often because of genuine interest, but other times out of a sense of guilt or obligation, and sometimes out of fear of reprisal if I refused. But as I advanced in my career, the requests snowballed. Agreeing to do all of them — or even half of them — became impossible. I needed to figure out when to say no, and how to do it artfully. Five principles have helped me learn what to say, and what not to say.

The article is worth reading, but the five key points, which apply in different situations are:

  • Volunteer someone else — strategically
  • Don’t explain
  • Do explain
  • Set your own policies
  • Just hit ‘delete’

I’ve written on this topic before – The challenge of saying ‘no’ to academic requests There is some good advice in this post. But to pre-empt the comments on avoiding work, or transferring to others, here’s the conclusion:

Academe could not function if every scholar refused to serve on committees, evaluate manuscripts and grants, write recommendations, and perform many other uncompensated and often undervalued tasks. We need to say yes — and to do so often. Ultimately, that’s why saying no is so important. Saying no to some requests enables us to say yes to others. Each productive yes depends on many an artful no.

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