Strategic Engagement: Saying No, Negotiating to Yes

By Rinal Ray
follow me on Twitter: @uptownRinky

As YNPs, we have a lot to offer–fresh perspectives, young networks, eagerness to learn, and a willingness to roll up our sleeves. We’re ready to get out there and do good! And it’s that type of energy that institutions, organizations, campaigns, and people want to pull-in to their programs, boards, and outreach efforts. Win–win, right? 

Receiving requests for help or involvement is really flattering and conjures up all type of good feelings. However, it’s that hurricane of euphoric emotions that tempts you to say ‘yes’ without a second thought. Even if it is an opportunity that doesn’t generate as much excitement for me, saying ‘no’ rarely crosses my mind.

Now an automated yes might serve as a self-injecting boost to your ego—at least for me—but soon after comes the grave reality of the commitment you’ve just made. How will I fit the meetings into an already busy schedule? When will I have time to do the extra work I’ve just promised? What about time for my relationships? Myself?

Maneuvering to the right side of the ask—which often means the side that keeps your life balanced and sane, but yet fulfilled—can be tricky, so I’ve enlisted the help of some plugged-in people and peer mentors who seem to have struck the balance on strategic engagement. Here’s what I’ve learned:

  1.  It’s ok to say ‘no’. Despite the desire to be helpful, advance professionally, be congenial, do a good job, be a good person, and gain new skills–sometimes no is the right answer, for you and ultimately, the person asking. People will respect that you know the bounds of your time and they will still like you. Consider suggesting someone else who would do a fantastic job and appreciate the referral.
  2. Sleep on it. Give yourself time to mull it over. Consider how the opportunity in front of you fits into your life and long-term goals. Think through the time commitment and whether the opportunity time cost is worth it.
  3. Ask questions. To thoroughly think about the ask, you must know its full extent. Therefore, ask questions. Make sure you have a good understanding of the expectations before committing.
  4. Talk it through. Discuss the opportunity with a friend, colleague, mentor, and partner. Ask the people who know you and your ambitions; they’ll be your mirror if you are on the fence.

After all of this, you are still unsure of what your answer should be, or the overwhelming desire to be helpful wins over, negotiate to ‘yes.’ If there is something undesirable about the ask, then negotiate it away! For example, if you're approached to help fundraise and asking people for money is not your thing, offer instead to host an event or happy hour, and then invite the organization’s fundraisers to make the ask. 

By negotiating to the level of engagement that best fits, you demonstrate commitment and passion for the organization while still engaging in a way that works for you and is valuable.

This is what I’ve picked up so far, but I'm always curious to hear from others, so I’ll ask you–How do you strategically engage?

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