Voices: The Art of Saying No

The Art of Saying ‘NO’ | Kimberly Resnick, MD

Ping. Ping. Ping. The invitations come pouring into my calendar—a meeting, a committee, a conference call. My spouse groans as I accept another commitment. I am the Division Director, Associate Residency Director, swim team mom and first grade room parent. I find my mind flooded with thoughts of swim meet snacks as I prepare the residents’ complicated master schedule.

Kimberly Resnick, MD

Travis Bradberry in a Forbes magazine post recently shared an interesting anecdote about President Lyndon Johnson. In 1965, President Johnson was trying to get his chief economist on the phone when he was stymied by his economist’s housekeeper. The housekeeper told the president that her employer was napping and left a message that he was not to be disturbed. When the president asked the housekeeper to wake up her boss, the woman replied that she did not work for the president. The call did not go through.

As we advance in our careers and our lives we find that the requests for our attention and our time become overwhelming. If we are unable to say “no,” research shows that we are more likely to experience burnout and depression. There is a subtle art to saying “no” that we must master if we wish to be successful physicians, academicians, parents and spouses. Mr. Bradberry goes on to discuss that when we say “no” we are actually making a conscious decision to say “yes” to something else. If we decline the committee meeting that happens every other Thursday evening, will we make it to the gym? Can we make dinner for the family? Realize that with every “no” we are prioritizing our life goals and making a statement about what is important in our lives.

I have found a number of helpful and creative “life hacks” in order to help all of us become more successful at saying “no”:

  1. Get a good night’s sleep: Before you respond to an invitation, sleep on it. We are often times more able to view the invitation in the context of our current commitments and time limitations after a 24-hour period.
  2. Offer an alternate: When asked to review a manuscript or give a presentation, why not offer the name of a more junior colleague? Consider where you are on your career trajectory and ask yourself if somebody else could more readily benefit from this experience?
  3. Set your annual limits: Decide at the beginning of the year what you can say “yes” to over a 12-month period. Decide well in advance that you will review 10 manuscripts, serve on one additional committee and volunteer at school four times a year. Once you have reached this personal limit all further requests may be answered with “no.” No justification is needed. Utilize your chair or division director to help you set these boundaries if needed. This individual can serve as backup if necessary.

It is not until we master the art of saying “no” that we are truly able to say “yes” and devote our time, energy and intellect towards the causes and commitments that we truly find worthwhile.

Kimberly Resnick, MD, is the Division Director of Gynecologic Oncology at the MetroHealth Medical Center at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH.

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