Story

A friend recently approached me and asked for my support in designing and providing a 3D model of a structure he planned to build for a customer. He was impressed by a previous example of my work and wanted to demonstrate to his customer that the built structure would be robust, functional and ascetically pleasing. The budget for the project was limited because the contract to build the structure was close but not yet finalized.

This particular friend had been extremely helpful to me recently and I wanted to help. Unfortunately, the limited budget barely covered the cost of the software usage and my small business was demanding all of my time due to a critical deadline. So instead of just diving in with the design and creating strain within the family due to my absence, I started with some research. Within 15 minutes, I found detailed drawings and specifications available on-line for $35. Using my engineering background, I was able to quickly sort the designs to meet size and structure requirements while also satisfying functional and ascetic needs of the customer. I sent the material to my friend that evening and reviewed it with him in person a few days later.

In the end, I actually never said no. Instead, I provided an alternative that was an order of magnitude cheaper and significantly better (full drawings and specifications) than what he requested in a faction of the time. He obviously took the alternate approach and I was able to provide the help needed in 30 minutes.

Why Its Important

Our time is precious. Demands for our time come from all directions especially for leaders who are expert and do quality work. Saying no is a requirement to guarding our time for what matters most. However, repeatedly providing flat out nos comes across poorly and will make people reluctant to help you in time of need. Instead lead with an alternative solution that is better than what was originally requested from you. This has the benefit of making you look smart and building rapport with others. More importantly, providing an alternative solution will take a fraction of your time.

Guarding your time is crucial but there are times when “yes” is the best. Here are a few good litmus tests:

  • Is the situation critical and are you the only one available to help?
  • Is the request in the sweet spot of your expertise?
  • Will “yes” save you time in the future in return favors?

Actions You Can Take To Provide Solid Alternatives To Guard Your Time

  1. Be prepared with alternative solutions to most frequent requests. When I was younger I owned a truck. I was instantly popular with people needing to move and it seemed I had a new request every weekend. After the 3rd or 4th request it got old and was significantly chewing up my time. So I did some research and found a good moving company with excellent reviews. When people asked me to help them move, I simply provided them with the moving companies contact info and highlighted all the benefits a professional service provided that I could not. In the end, they were happy because I saved them the time of finding a good service.
  2. Buy some time to prepare alternatives to new requests. When presented with a request you haven’t been asked before, politely state, “Let me consider your request and get back to you.” This gives you some time to consider an alternative solution. There is a good chance you are right in the middle of something when the request comes and its reasonable to request time to come to a good stopping point.
  3. Deliver the alternative and highlight its benefits. Communication of the alternative solution is just as important as the solution itself. People need to walk away feeling confident they are on the right path. Clear and concise explanation of benefits is key to winning support. For frequent requests, it can make sense to document an alternative that is more difficult to communicate. This can quickly be sent digitally and provide the requester with clear step by step instructions to follow.
  4. Be prepared for push back. Sometimes people will be reluctant to take the alternative provided. In this case, you can highlight your limitations on time and recommend an equivalent service to your own. Coming back to the story above, I could have also recommended a local company that provides 3D modeling support via software super users. Super users are fast, efficient and provide quality work at a reasonable price. Furthermore, you can also spend a few minutes helping the person help themselves. Briefly explain the process you would use to find an alternative and make yourself available to answer questions along the way.

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