Bob Boiko, author of Laughing at the CIO and a speaker at the 2009 J. Boye conference in Philadelphia, advises information managers to get comfortable with saying no. You don't do it by practicing in front of a mirror, even if you're shy. Instead, you practice laying the groundwork to justify the no. In the process, you'll make better decisions and work with more effective people.

The Two Kinds of No

There are two kinds of no to use. The first no has to do with things. (Ideas are things too.) 

Sometimes you need to say no to bad ideas or projects. Obviously, your personal opinions may play a part in this process, but aren't as helpful as solid reasons. Here's what you need to do to say no to a project or idea:

  • Ask yourself, "Why do I want to say no?" Does the idea go against some other goal? Is it too expensive? Will it not work?
  • Ask yourself, "How do I know?" Make a short list of reasons.
  • Ask yourself, "What would I need to show other people that I'm right?"

The last question is the one that can lead to real career success. If you know you're right and can't demonstrate it, why not? What would need to change in order for you to be able to demonstrate it?

What if you don't have data to back you up, for example? Is there a way you could start collecting that data? Is a person blocking you? Why do you think they are doing that, and what might convince them to change?

The second kind of no has to do with people. Sometimes, especially if you say no to bad ideas in the right way, you'll become successful enough that people want to work with you. But just like every blind date is not a good date, you need to be able to say No to people or groups that will get in the way of getting things done. Here's how to do that:

  • Who are these guys? Look at who's asking to work with you. Are they well-led and effective? Or do they just want someone, anyone, to save them from their pain?
  • What would happen if we worked together? Even the best groups may not be a good fit if they're working on the wrong things. Is the group's final product going to be something important to others, or just to them? Redesigning the interface for a corporate intranet may be interesting and useful, for instance, but perhaps not as important as fixing a broken customer service system. If a proposed project went just as it was supposed to, what benefits would come from it?

Again, finding out the answers to these questions may help you succeed. If you don't know about a project or group, find out! You can improve your personal connections and your effectiveness by getting to know people and asking questions. Simple stuff, but sometimes it's easy to forget.

Teamwork isn't just important to a knowledge economy -- it's essential. But sometimes saying No is the best thing to do for a team.  And knowing why you say No will make your Noes more effective and believable.