Tuesday Trainings: It’s not always easy to just say no.

As Community Team deputies and mentors, sometimes we find ourselves in the position of needing to say “No.” It’s just a little word. In English, it’s exactly two letters. It’s so easy, it’s the first real word many children learn to say. But sometimes, it can be overwhelmingly difficult to say. 

Today, we’ll focus on three types of “No” that we often come across in our daily work.

  • When someone is asking for our assistance or additional volunteer efforts.
  • When an organizer or volunteer is asking to do something that doesn’t fit within the expectations of our program.
  • When we’re rejecting an applicant (to speak, organize, volunteer).

Of course, there are many other reasons for us to say “No,” but these are the instances I want to focus on today.

“I don’t know, but let’s find out”

Before we dive into the big NO of it all, I do want to take a moment to remind you that if you don’t KNOW the answer, “No” shouldn’t be your go to. If you’re uncertain, please understand that you’re not expected to know everything. You just need to know when to ask for more help. When that happens to me, I like to say, “I don’t know, but let’s find out.”

Then I turn to my best resources, my fellow deputies, and community members. For you, that may be asking in the #community-team channel in the Making WordPress SlackSlack Slack is a Collaborative Group Chat Platform https://slack.com/. The WordPress community has its own Slack Channel at https://make.wordpress.org/chat/., sending an email to support@wordcamp.org, or asking a friend who is also working on the project. 

Don’t simply say “No” just because you have the power to. But when you need to say “No”…

Saying “No” to doing more

As volunteers in this program, we ask a lot of you. In addition to the work that brought you into the WordPress project in the first place, you may find yourself volunteering, speaking, organizing, mentoring, working as a deputy, leading a working group, or even leading a whole team of volunteers. And it seems like the more you do, the more is asked of you. The more dependable and hardworking you are, the more people will ask. 

It’s important for us all to know our limit. To know when we should stop. And to know when we should decline additional commitments. This is the one that is most challenging for me personally. But I’ve learned my lesson. When I know I’m doing enough, saying “Yes” to more work will lead to burnout.

If you have enough (or too much on your plate) the best way to say “No” to more work is to be transparent about it. Tell the requester that you won’t be able to do the job the way it deserves to be done. Here, saying “No” saves you from being overworked, and it saves the requester the frustration of having the task done by someone who isn’t fully available. 

If you want to help in a smaller way, and you have the bandwidth to do so, you might try:

  • Suggesting another individual you think would do the job well.
  • If you’ll have time available in the future, let them know when that will be.
  • Offer assistance that DOES fit into your schedule, but make your boundaries clear.

Saying “No” to something that doesn’t fit within expectations

As mentors and deputies, you hold a lot of knowledge about the way the program runs, and the expectations and guidelines that have developed over the years. But even more importantly, sometimes you have insight into why we have these expectations and guidelines in place. 

While we’re currently doing a lot of experimentation in the WordPress events program, it’s perhaps harder than ever to say no. With all the new things organizers are trying out, considering the health and safety of our community and the financial stability of the program, as well as remaining consistent with the values of the project, there’s still a lot to say “No” to. 

If an organizer or deputy wants to do something that you know doesn’t match the program’s expectations, you need to say “No”, and often there is no easy way to do it. But here are some things that can help you prepare to deny a request.

  • Do some research. Has this request been denied in the past? If so you can share that information.
  • Be transparent. Don’t say “No” without sharing the expectation or guideline that led you not to approve something or someone.
  • Understand the values behind the expectation. Is it a fun, but unnecessary expense? Share that we run the events program to focus on lean budgets that benefit attendees with education and collaboration. 
  • Be prepared with backup. You don’t have to do it alone. It’s always reasonable to get a second opinion and ask that person to be there to say “No” with you.

Saying “No” to an applicant

Based on the feedback I get from speaker applicants throughout the program, this may be the one that’s hardest for many of our organizers and community members. Saying “No” to someone who WANTS to speak, volunteer, or help in some way.

I don’t think any of us want to disappoint others in our community, so it can be really emotionally challenging to send out rejection emails, or have those tough rejection conversations. When we sign up to help the community, we don’t sign up to intentionally hurt people by rejecting them.

Year after year, I see organizers procrastinate on sending out speaker rejections until it’s too late. Year after year, I have community members reach out to me to find out if I know when an event will notify their speakers. Or to tell me on the evening of an event that they applied, but were never accepted or rejected. 

It’s true that every once in a while someone was accidentally skipped over, or an email went to spam. But most of the time it’s that the speaker team just “forgot” or didn’t know how to say “No” kindly, so they just never got around to doing it. 

The truth of the matter is, that no matter how bad it may feel to be rejected, never hearing back is even worse. I’ve heard people express that it felt like they didn’t matter enough to be notified, that they thought the organizing team wasn’t doing their job, that they felt like they were being strung along. I’ve heard from people who weren’t notified that they went ahead and built a whole presentation for an event just in case the team was behind. 

In this case, more than any other, not saying “No”, not sending a timely rejection to that applicant to speak, organize, or volunteer is unkind. It can cause worry, anxiety, hard feelings, and a lot of wasted time.

Here’s what you should keep in mind when saying no to an applicant:

  • Saying “No” is a kindness, do so promptly.
  • Don’t be wishy-washy, be assertive and polite.
  • Reject them privately.
  • Offer them the option to ask questions.
  • Only encourage them to apply again if you mean it. 

Wrapping up

For most of us saying “No” isn’t fun. We don’t wake up in the morning excited to reject individuals and crush dreams, but it is a necessity, and avoiding it when it is inevitable or being unclear makes things worse. Remember, be kind by sharing honestly.

Do you have any good tips on how to make saying “No” easier? Any questions? Please share them in the comments!

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