Reframe & Reset Your Career Podcast

Episode 64. The Power Of Saying No: How It Can Put You In Charge Of Your Life And Career

Want to understand why saying no is so hard and how it can help free up time to focus on the things that really matter to you? Professor Vanessa Patrick and I discussed this, her new book “The Power Of Saying No” and much more on Episode 64 of the Reframe & Reset Your Career podcast.

In this episode, we will learn about:

The importance of personal branding and sharing information that is of value for your audience,

Why it’s so hard to say no,

What is an empowered refusal?,

How can you say no to your boss,

The A.R.T. framework of saying no,

What is a personal policy and how it helps you to say no,

Think of saying no as a way of allowing you to spend your time the way you want rather than being dictated by someone else,

A matrix to help work out which asks you should accept or refuse through assessing their relative benefits and costs,

How to say no to “office housework” and other non promotable tasks, and

Ways of dealing with “walnuts”, people who don’t take no for an answer.


The edited transcript of the interview is at the end. It has been edited for clarity and ease of reading. I hope you find it helpful.


Vanessa Patrick, PhD. is the Associate Dean for Research, Executive Director of Doctoral Programs (PhD and DBA), a Bauer Professor of Marketing and lead faculty of the Executive Women in Leadership Program at the Bauer School of Business at the University of Houston.

She has been recognized with a number of awards for both scholarship and teaching, including the LeRoy and Lucille Melcher Faculty Excellence award from the Bauer College of Business for Research Excellence (2011), Service Excellence (2016) and Teaching Excellence (2018). In 2012, she was named one of the top 50 most productive marketing scholars worldwide by the DocSig of the American Marketing Association. She was appointed as a Fulbright Specialist (2019-24) by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. She served in this role by visiting the Institut Teknologi Bandung in Indonesia in November 2022.

She is a regular speaker at both academic and practitioner conferences, including the Association of Consumer Research Conference, the Society of Consumer Psychology conference, the Greater Houston Women’s Chamber of Commerce annual conference, the NAWMBA Annual Gender Diversity Conference and the UH Women of Color Coalition.

She is a prominent scholar in her field and serves on editorial and policy boards of leading academic journals. She is currently an Associate Editor for the Journal of Marketing Research and the Journal of Marketing.

Vanessa and I talked about building a personal brand and she told me “Marketing is about creating value. When you are thinking about yourself as a brand, you have to be thinking about how do I create value in whatever I touch? And that means that you not only have to do good work, but people need to know that you can do good work … You can think about your brand as a function of what people talk about you, your reputation and what you do, what associations do they have with you?”


People & Resources Mentioned

Melancholy – Degas

Influence – Dr Robert Cialdini


Contact Vanessa




Reframe & Reset Your Career Resources & Contact Info


YouTube Channel: 

LinkedIn Page:

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Thank you for your continued support of Reframe & Reset Your Career, I do appreciate it. I now have a new website, see link above, please do check it out, I hope you find it helpful. The next episode is out on Weds 22nd November with Professor Thomas Curran, the author of The Perfection Trap and the world’s leading expert on perfectionism.

It would be great to hear from you, the listeners, and your thoughts about the podcast, YouTube channel or anything else, it’s always a pleasure to hear your views. I have had some great reviews but not had any way of responding. 


Edited Interview Transcript

Harsha: [00:00:00] Welcome to Reframe and Reset Your Career, a podcast to help if you’re looking for a job, feeling stuck in your career, or just trying to rediscover your why. I am your host Harsha Boralessa, and this podcast came from my passion for neuroscience and psychology and the interaction with career and personal development.

I will be interviewing recognized experts and successful professionals. And asking them to share the insights and strategies that have helped their careers thrive. Implementing change is not easy and does take time. But I do hope that their stories will inspire you on your path to greater success and fulfillment in your career.

Here are some highlights of today’s episode.

Vanessa: Branding is really such a fundamental and important skill for everyone in industry to learn because that’s how you create value. You may need to reframe how we think about saying no. So the way to begin is to really [00:01:00] start saying no to the things that don’t matter so that we can say yes to the things that do.

The simple reframing of language from I can’t to I don’t makes a world of difference in terms of how your no comes across.

Harsha: Welcome to episode 64 of the Reframe and Reset Your Career podcast. Our guest today is Dr. Vanessa Patrick. Before we begin, I wanted to thank all the supporters of the podcast. I’m currently working on launching a new website.

Hopefully it will be live by the time this episode is released. Please do check it out. It’s called Please note that in this episode, we may touch on mental health and wellness topics, purely in general terms. If you have specific issues or concerns, please contact a suitable professional.

Now back to the show. Vanessa is the Associate Dean for Research, Executive Director of Doctoral Programs, PhD and DBA, a Bauer Professor of [00:02:00] Marketing and Lead Faculty at the Executive Women in Leadership Program at the Bauer School of Business at the University of Houston. She has been recognized with a number of awards for both scholarship and teaching and is a regular speaker at both academic and practitioner conferences, including the Association of Consumer Research Conference and the Society of Consumer Psychology Conference.

She serves on editorial and policy boards of leading academic journals. She is currently an associate editor. For the Journal of Marketing Research and the Journal of Marketing. Her new book is The Power of Saying No, and it’s lucky I did not say no to Vanessa, and it is also a great read. Welcome Vanessa.

Vanessa: Thank you so much. I’ve really been looking forward to chatting

Harsha: with you, Harsha. Oh, brilliant. So Vanessa, I’m a big fan of the arts. Is there a performer, song, book, or film which you’d like to share? And I believe you’re a bit of a bookworm, Vanessa. So I, I hope to see some interesting fiction [00:03:00] titles rather than personal development.

Vanessa: Sure. I actually love to read. You’re absolutely right. But there’s also a aspect of my research that I focus on in which I study aesthetics and design. So I definitely also have favorite artworks and music pieces, etc. So I can tell you a couple of things. My favorite current book that I have loved this last year has been Lessons in Chemistry.

It is a lovely non fiction read. I just finished, as of yesterday, a book that it was, it was interesting because yesterday was Eleanor Roosevelt’s birthday and I finished a book about her yesterday and it was called First Ladies. So I like to read kind of historical fiction as well but also just fiction fiction.

And in terms of art, you know, there’s just so many beautiful artworks, and I do research inspired by the arts. So for example, [00:04:00] there’s this one painting by Degas, it’s called, it’s called Melancholy. And it’s a painting that I’ve been fascinated by. And it actually inspired a research article that looked at how artworks draw consumers in, draw the viewer in.

And very often art uses this technique of using averted gaze. So in portraits and in pictures where you want the viewer to look objectively at the art, you know, you, the, the gaze is always direct. But when you want the Viewer to be immersed in the art. It’s all was averted. So one of these paintings is melancholy, which is such a beautiful painting, and she’s looking sadly to the side.

And it’s one of those paintings that really draws you in. So I wrote a paper about averted gaze and the ability to immerse a person. But the story behind Melancholy is interesting because it was in the Chicago [00:05:00] Museum of Art. And so I was determined when I, that when I went to Chicago for a conference that I was going to take time out to find this painting.

And I went all over looking for it. After a while, I decided, okay, I must speak to the docent to find out where is this painting. I know it’s here. And it turns out it’s this tiny postcard size painting, which I did not expect. I imagined like, you know, we’ve got these views of the world that, you know, if it’s going to be a painting, it’s going to be this big size painting.

It’s the same response people have to the Mona Lisa, for example, they find. Oh, my gosh, I didn’t realize it was so small. But melancholy is literally a postcard size painting, but it is beautiful.

Harsha: I love that. I have to admit, I’m not a big art person purely because I’m not very good at art but I love the impressionists and Monet.

So I haven’t come across that Degas, but I will definitely check it out. But it’s interesting since sort of starting, the podcast and the YouTube channel, you’re [00:06:00] thinking about how do things look? How do things appeal to people? And there are these very subtle things you’re thinking about colors.

And I never thought that you could be thinking about purples or blues and ruminating, which is more appealing? But back to the beginning, what led to your interest in marketing and working in advertising?

Vanessa: I was on a science track and I was destined to become a doctor because that was what my, I came from a family of doctors and everyone expected that that was what I was going to do.

And, much to everyone’s disappointment, I decided that I was going to not get into the medical field, but stay in science and do microbiology and biochemistry and specialize in genetic engineering and become a research scientist. I further disappointed my family when I decided to abandon that entirely and actually do my MBA.

It’s through that process of recognizing in myself that you might be good at certain things, but you may not [00:07:00] necessarily enjoy it. And so I think that was fortunately an early recognition that I might be good at science. I might be capable of doing it. But sitting behind a microscope and working alone in the lab is just not so interesting to me.

I much rather have, much rather be in the quad hanging out with people or, you know, going out and doing stuff that made me understand life a little bit more. And so I think that the switch was more because I was interested in people and how things work and how the world works. And then of course, science does that too, but in a very different way.

Harsha: I can totally understand that Vanessa, because my mum’s an anaesthetist and my father’s a haematologist, but they were pretty cool about me not getting down the medical path because they probably realized, look, it wasn’t for me, what led to working in advertising?

Vanessa: So a couple of things. One was definitely because I did my [00:08:00] MBA, that was a natural path into some in business industry.

But also that my dad was, was in advertising and he was a creative, he was an art director. So I grew up learning a lot about art and art advertising, and I attended many photo shoots that he was doing as part of his job. So it felt like a familiar industry and also exciting.

Harsha: Obviously you worked for a few years and in your book, you talk about your 24th birthday, which we can talk about later. Just a spoiler alert. It didn’t end well but what, brought about that shift into academia?

Vanessa: It was a fabulous first job. It gave me a lot of things that I still use up until today. It was definitely one of those things that puts you on the spot and forces you to find solutions to problems.

There’s no such thing as saying we can’t do it when you’re in advertising. You make it happen. And I think that that go [00:09:00] getting mentality is something that holds me. Really well up until today, the idea that, everything can get done if you wanted to get done. It was fast paced. It was exciting, but it was very much focused on doing much less at least at the stage that I was at much less on learning on thinking on personal development.

So when I thought about kind of where I wanted to go in my career, I wanted a much more intellectually stimulating job in which I could grow. I just felt that there was something out there that could be more aligned with my personality. Because I wasn’t going to be 24 for the rest of my life where I didn’t have any commitments, I could just stay up till 2 o’clock in the morning, waiting for an artwork to come from the [00:10:00] printers that I could transfer it somewhere else.

That was not a feasible long term career given who I am, I explored several options, but, academia was this unknown because I didn’t know a single person who had done a PhD. So for me, saying, wow, I wanna do a PhD, was, quite bold. I feel looking back and thinking about it because, I just left home and I said, I just wanna study more. It just turned out to be the best decision I ever made. I think I started flourishing when I joined my PhD program.

Harsha: Yeah. And, and you ended up at USC, the home of the, is it the Trojans? So, yeah. Good football team. S0 were you there during the glory days of Pete Carroll, but was he 2005, 2004?

Vanessa: I was [00:11:00] there from 1999 to 2004.

Harsha: Okay so you’ve seen some great football games, which you would have missed, probably!

Vanessa: I probably did not go for as many games, as I should have. I mean, as a doctoral student, you’re not necessarily as embedded in the university football culture, like if you were an undergrad, and I was so focused on work and so focused on studying. I think if I look back, I feel that I should have had a better balance. But at that time, when you’re a doctoral student, you just put your head down and work.

Harsha: Well, you missed hanging out with Snoop Dogg, but I’m sure that will happen in the future. I believe it’s so important that you can do great work, but if you can’t find a way of standing out, and also communicating what you’re doing to other people, you’re just not going to get ahead.

 [00:12:00] If you say, look at Netflix, you have the content production piece and then the marketing piece and you can create great product, but if you can’t market it and vice versa, it goes hand in hand. And I think a lot of people, you know, especially our listeners. They’re probably good at the technical side, but not maybe so good at the personal branding. Clearly this is probably a couple of books worth, but maybe some high level things which our listeners could use in their working lives.

Vanessa: This is definitely something that’s a passion for me. Now, marketing is about creating value. And so the bottom line is that when you are thinking about yourself as a brand, you have to be thinking about how do I create value in whatever I touch? And that means that you not only have to do good work, You know, the production part that you were talking about, but people need to know that you can do good work.

They need to know that when the good work is [00:13:00] done, that it was done by you. And so that’s the part where the brand comes out. Right. And so When you think about a brand, you ask yourself fundamentally, what is a brand? A brand is a set of associations. So if you think of any brand, what comes to mind when you think about that brand, right?

And that those, those associations can be driven by the marketer and actually can also be your experiences and your interactions with those brands. It also implies how the brand makes you feel.

And so when you think about yourself as a brand, you can think about your brand as a function of what people talk about you, your reputation, and what you do, what associations do they have with you. So, you know, personal branding at some level is a very fundamental aspect of the book that I wrote, because when you are a brand, what you want to do is you want to know what you uniquely bring to the table.

How [00:14:00] you can stand out, how you can be the go to person for the things that you do best. And once you are able to master that, to figure out what do I do best, how do I communicate what value I bring to the table, and how do I then be that person who people reach out to when they need that done, requires you to know a few things.

You need to have that self awareness. You need to also be able to have the confidence to be able to communicate that value to others. What can you do well? What do you bring to the table? And a very important thing is to not dilute your brand by doing things that are not aligned with your brand. If you say you are a brand that does X well, but you spend your entire day doing Y, People are not going to know you for X.

They will know you about Y. And then you wonder, why are people [00:15:00] asking me to do things that I really don’t enjoy doing? Because you haven’t said no to the things you don’t enjoy doing. So people keep coming back to you for it. And so personal branding is really such a fundamental and important skill for everyone in industry to learn because that’s how you create value.

Harsha: So Vanessa, I suppose it’s really how you can create the most value, because I really believe, especially in the modern world, it’s about trying to stand out and really build on the things that you’re good at, really major on that, and then figure out a ways, how do you communicate that in a way that is actually braggadocious.

Maybe things like creating content, getting into podcasts, writing articles, because the funny thing is that when, uh, and, and just for our listeners, the way Vanessa and I connected is that I commented on a post on LinkedIn. I think it was Matt Abrahams, I think you had been on his podcast.

I reached out to Vanessa and she said, Oh, would [00:16:00] you like to have me on your podcast? Now, clearly I have an obligation to my listeners. Generally, when I get cold invitations, I’m quite on the fence. But luckily, I did actually look into Vanessa. And because the majority of my listeners are female, I try and get more female speakers.

So that was another positive thing. And then I also looked at your book, which was fantastic. So it’s funny how, if you can get stuff out there in terms of content, and I listened also to your, interview with the Behavioral Grooves, people, because I know Kurt Nelson. So it is funny how, even though we haven’t met each other, your brand, you’ve got the book, you’re a professor, you’ve got the podcasts out there.

So you have these various almost avenues to building the brand, even though we haven’t met at all.

Vanessa: Absolutely. Yeah. Absolutely. Thank you. Absolutely. And that is really and let me say that it’s not easy to do that. But you have to build the brand by being consistent. [00:17:00] And so you have to be consistently thinking about what do I need to put out there into the world that is you.

Continuously developing that persona that you want to create. You also need to be communicating material that is relevant. You need to be doing, and you need to do things that people want to hear. If it’s all about, Oh, this is so great. And I’m so great. Nobody wants to hear that. Everyone wants to hear what’s in it for me.

So one of the big things that I do on LinkedIn specifically is I run curated groups because as a professor. I’m always reading the stuff that’s cutting edge. I’m always thinking stuff that’s cutting edge. And I feel that that’s what my students want, not only when they’re in my class, but even after that.

So they want to be in touch and they want to know what I’m thinking. But what’s the way to do that? So what I’ve done is essentially I’ve created curated groups on LinkedIn so that when the student has me in their class, they have me [00:18:00] forever. So I’ve got Groups on different topics that I teach so that people can stay in touch with this material.

Harsha: Yeah. Can you tell our listeners, can anybody join? I think I’m in one of your groups. Yeah.

Vanessa: Yeah. anyone can join, because this is a curated group. Curated groups on different topics. I’ve got a topic on women in leadership because I teach, I’m, the lead faculty for our Women in leadership program here.

I also do research on a topic called Inclusive Design. So I, that’s all about developing new products and services that meet the needs of a more diverse population. And so it requires you to think about product design in a very different sort of way. And so I’ve got a curated group on, on inclusive design and one, which is for my general lifelong learner group.

Which is called the, uh, for the love of lifelong learning. And that’s the stuff where I just throw [00:19:00] in just interesting stuff that kind of makes me go, wow. I wish everyone could know this.

Harsha: I like that because I think, the knowledge is all out there. I think it’s about how you assemble and you put these things together.

And I think that’s where the real value is that it’s having these unique takes on what’s out there and presenting it in a different way.

Vanessa: Because there’s just so much material out there. I think the future is about curations. It’s about having people who you trust to be good sources, to be good guides, and allowing them to curate material for you.

If I’m an expert at a particular topic. Then I feel that I’ve got a particular lens with which I’m viewing that topic and the future and how that’s growing. And so when I share that with people, I bring people along with me. And that’s where the curation, the value of curation. [00:20:00]

Harsha: Okay. And for people who are learning, then should they be looking to find trusted experts and following them and then applying their own lens?

Vanessa: In fact, I would love, very much love it if there was more of a dialogue at the moment people are consuming content, but not necessarily engaging in that content. I might have a few reshares, but it’s not like a dialogue, which is what I, in an ideal world, that’s what you want to do.

That’s where the learning actually happens. That’s how classroom learning happens. Classroom learning happens when you provide information and then you build on that information through some sort of dialogue.

Harsha: Oh,brilliant. So Vanessa, I’ll be emailing you every few weeks from now on. But turning to your book, um, why is saying no so hard?

Vanessa: Gosh, Harsha, it’s crazy how hard. People find saying [00:21:00] no. If you think about it, it is a hard thing to do. We are social beings and we have been socialized to be cooperative and nice and kind. And in many ways, saying no seems to be going against that social expectation. So there, there are these norms by which you operate in society.

And saying no seems like a norm violation, going against what people expect. But that shouldn’t be the case. What my book makes the case about, you really need to reframe how we think about saying no. No is not a bad thing if the thing you are saying no to is bad for you. Right. And so we need to rethink this issue coming back to the fundamental question about why we struggle with saying no and why we often say yes when we want to say no.

And this is a [00:22:00] common trap and a lot of people struggle with this. And I’ve asked many people to kind of tell me the stories and I have bundled them into three main reasons for why people say yes when they want to say no, and that is a concern for reputation. We are so concerned about what people think about us.

We want to be seen as competent, capable people who can handle anything that comes their way. And saying no seems to suggest that we are vulnerable and weak and unable to do stuff and we resist that kind of association. And so we want to maintain that capable, competent identity. And so we think that saying no is going to damage our reputation.

And we want to steer clear from that. Another reason, a big reason why a lot of people say yes, when they want to say no is because they are people pleasers or they are people who say, [00:23:00] well, you know, my, the relationship I have with the other person is more important than the relationship I have with myself.

I value other people more than I value me so the concern for relationships is a strong driver and people believe, and I would say that they are mostly wrong, that. If you say no, you are going to damage your relationship with the other person. And I argue in the book is that there are ways to say no, in which you can say no and still maintain the relationship with the other person, given that you say no in a way that is authentic and clear and stems from your identity, which I’m sure we’ll talk about in a bit.

And the third reason people say yes when they want to say no is that they never really learned to say no. They don’t have any practice. And we know that if we don’t practice, we are never going to get good at stuff. So the way to [00:24:00] begin is to really start saying no to things that don’t matter so that we can say yes to the things that do.

Harsha: I love that. And I, two things that struck me. Well, firstly, this idea of not valuing yourself, because I think that is so important that once you actually do value your time and the things that you’re doing, then you can say to yourself, well, look, why am I doing this task, which really is not adding any value?

It’s about almost self love, but I think if people do, appreciate themselves, they value themselves. You are just not going to end up doing silly things. And also this whole idea of, it’s difficult to say no to people. But, you know, if you put that in your head that almost the default is no or maybe because I was definitely very much a people please and I was saying yes to all these things, but now I’ve learned that, you just can’t do it. And actually saying yes to something is going to take time away from other things. So yeah, I just love all the things that you’re talking [00:25:00] about.

Vanessa: Absolutely. So I think there’s, you said a few of those things that are in the book as well, which is that everything is a trade off.

When we say yes to one thing, we are going to say no to something else. Recognizing that we have limited time, energy, and resources, and we want to dedicate those limited resources to the things that matter, because that is how we build our personal brand. That is how we create a unique mark on the world.

That is how we create value. If we squander our time doing what everybody else wants, we don’t spend time doing what we can do. We have so little opportunity, such a small window in our life to really make a positive difference. If you look at a lot of the very famous people who have made a positive difference, they have had a laser sharp focus.

They know what they want to do, and they [00:26:00] put all their energies in making those things happen. So you think about the trade offs that you have to make when you scatter your energy, you scatter your focus. You’re not going to be able to make the impact that you could. And I think that what happens then, when you actually start developing this kind of very clear focus on where you want to concentrate, you start seeing the returns, you start seeing that you have more time, more energy, more motivation to do the things that matter.

Harsha: Can you really say no to your boss and how do you frame that?

Vanessa: Absolutely. So the crux of this book is the concept of empowered refusal, which is what I’ve studied in my research. So empowered refusal is a way of saying no, that communicates the no in a way that implicates the identity. So then your no becomes about you and who [00:27:00] you are, what you value.

What do you bring to the table and not a rejection of the other person? And it’s a simple reframe of communicating a no, not leaning on an excuse. So some sort of external circumstance, which a lot of us do, because when someone rejects comes and asks us something, we often think about what, what is it that I can lean on?

What excuse can I grab? And we’ve been taught to be polite and say, I’m sorry, I can’t do this because you know, things are out of my control. And that takes away the responsibility from you to some someone else. In my book, I argue for a kind of reversal of that. To own your No, take ownership of where you stand on a particular matter.

And so when you own that No and implicated in your identity, communicate it from who you are. And that begins with the language that we use. So instead of [00:28:00] saying, I can’t because of some external circumstance, I recommend reframing that to saying I don’t because this is who I am. So the simple reframing of language from I can’t to I don’t makes a world of difference in terms of how your No comes across.

When you say I can’t you come across as not in control, deprived, more vulnerable and invite pushback because if you say I can’t people most often will ask you why and then you enter into a long winded negotiation as to why you can’t do something. When you say I don’t do something it communicates that you are in the driver’s seat of your own life that you are in control, you know where you stand on a matter and this is your stance.

Harsha: If your boss comes up to you and says, oh, Vanessa, I’ve got this big project to do, and you’ve already got a [00:29:00] couple of other projects to do. If I was in that situation, I would simply say, clearly, we need to figure out a way of either me parcelling this to somebody else or changing what I’m doing.

What are your thoughts of Vanessa? I think that’s a scenario that comes up for a lot of people that they’re already busy and then their boss shoves some other stuff, but actually in that situation, you can use it, reframe it and use it in a positive way.

Vanessa: Absolutely. So these are, these are all great suggestions that you mentioned. But at the end of the day, when a request comes your way, the first thing to assess is whether this is your job or not. Right? Because very often we are asked to do things that are not our job. And those are the non promotable tasks, the office housework. Those are things you can say no to because they don’t fall within your job.

But let’s say that this, this is an additional project that falls within the scope of work. That’s the time to have that discussion. Instead of saying yes [00:30:00] or no in the moment, we need to first take the time to think because that would reflecting on whether this is a good project for you to take on, what would you have to give up to do this and how you can present your boss.

So when somebody comes to you and says, your boss comes to you and says, you know, I’ve got this big project. I want to, can I, can, can you take it on? It’s due say in three weeks, instead of saying yes or no, in the moment, it’s a good idea to buy some time to reflect. So you said, let me, let me, let me think about what I have on my plate for the next three weeks and get back to you.

And then make sure to actually do that assessment. What do I have to do in the next three weeks? What are the things I would have to give up in order to get this done? And then go to the boss and present your case. If this is super important, then I will take it on, but these are the things that may not be able to get done because I’m [00:31:00] taking this on.

And that is a reasonable negotiation to have. And that’s how you try to handle it. So the key points are one, never say yes or no in the moment because you haven’t had the time to actually make the necessary calculations. Two is do the work. Think carefully about what’s the time it’s going to take and what are the trade offs.

Learn to present a case without defensiveness. Without fear, because we, at the end of the day, are expected to perform at a level of excellence that is in line with our personal brand. Very often I don’t take things on, not because I can’t do it, but because I will not be able to do it at the level at which I feel it needs to get done.

Sometimes you have to think about it and say, can I get it done at the level I need to get it done? If not, then I’m not going to do it. So that’s just one of my personal policies. Now shift the scenario to asks that come from your boss or from anyone in the [00:32:00] organization that have nothing to do with your job.

Now, these are a lot of people get asked to do things that have nothing to do with what they’ve been hired to do. And this includes things like, organizing retirement parties, organizing seminar, managing, interns and it’s stuff that needs to be done in the organization. But nobody has the responsibility to do it.

And that’s what we call in the, in the research office housework. So someone needs to do it, but no one’s assigned to do it. And in those cases, the research shows the gender difference in this, that women are more likely to be asked to do office housework and also more likely to say yes to doing the office housework.

And when we are in the situation where we asked to do office housework, I think, number one, we can say no, because it’s not part of our job. We need to recognize [00:33:00] the real trade offs. Because when we are doing office housework, we are not doing our job. And it is our job that is going to be discussed in annual performance reviews.

Whether you organized a retirement party, or baked a cake, or organized a picnic, never comes up. It just doesn’t come up. Unless the organization is going to actually reward you for those tasks, you are entitled to say no to those tasks, or say yes, if it is your turn. Many organizations do kind of a round robin sort of thing, where these, you know, I handle the interns this year, now you handle the interns, someone else handles the interns next year.

And if it’s that sort of rotating task. That seems fair, but if it’s your turn to do it, then you take it on. Otherwise, the research shows that we often get trapped doing stuff that [00:34:00] is never going to show up in an annual performance review, and we’re not going to get promoted for those tasks.

Harsha: I think the bottom line there is really look at what you’re being asked to do. If it’s this non promotable stuff, you really have to be quite firm, almost selfish and say, look, okay, I’ll do it once, but I’m not going to be the person, the go to person for the Christmas party or whatever it is. So, I think that’s a great point.

So I also picked up in your book that you, you have this framework and you talk about ART. and you talk about these three competencies to help you say no.

Vanessa: Absolutely. So, now, in order to be able to communicate an effective empowered refusal, you need to develop some skills and competencies.

This idea of looking inwards and being able to articulate a No in an effective way based on your identity requires us to do some background work. And so I call this the art of empowered refusal, where ART [00:35:00] stands for awareness, rules, not decisions and totality of self. Where we need to begin with a lot of this is self awareness, developing the insight and the awareness about ourselves, where, where, what we value, what do we want to bring to the table?

How do we want to show up in the world? What do we want our personal brand to look like? What do we want people to think when they think about us? So these are the things that need to shape how our decisions move forward with that deepened self awareness. We then need to develop systems. We need to put systems in place.

And I call these systems personal policies. Personal policies are simple rules that we put in place that. Just guide our actions and decisions. They can act as shortcuts, for example. So if you ask me something and I have a personal policy in mind, making the decision about whether to say [00:36:00] yes or no to becomes much easier because I know where I stand on that matter.

And it could be a broad, it could be at a different level, it could be a category level, you know, these sorts of asks, this is where I stand, or it could be very specific. When I am asked this, I will say no, or I will say yes. So I think we can develop a set of systems and become much more fluent with the kind of requests that have come our way.

I very often when I talk to groups, I have people raise their hands to, uh, on various questions. And one question I like to ask is how many people, and they’re mostly leaders in the room, how many people just wish people would just stop asking them stuff and hands raise up. Everyone just wants like, please don’t ask me stuff.

And this is wishful thinking. The reality is that people are always going to ask. It is up to us [00:37:00] to be able to say no to the things that are not things that are aligned with our purpose and yes to the things that are and so people are just not going to stop asking us stuff so it’s so we better get good at sifting between the good for me activities and the not good for me activities because that’s the only way to move forward in a realistic manner.

Harsha: And I like this point you made about having this rules based system because then it’s not a personal thing. It’s just I don’t do that. So a lot of people who are office based, they like to go out at lunchtime and meet clients because it’s a good way to get out of the office.

But if you’re not working in the office, then to go into town, meet that person, travel back, you’re wasting three hours or four hours or whatever it is. So in a way, if you say to yourself, look, I can meet you at the end of the day, or the start of the day, but I’m not going to meet you in the [00:38:00] middle of the day, because it’s going to mess up my day.

And then people know where you stand. And this is not about that person. It is just, this is my policy. So I just love that point that you’re making and also this personal policy thing. Yeah, it is then just saying, okay, it’s almost like saying, , I’m Vanessa Patrick, LLC. I’m trying to create value. How can I create value in the most efficient way? I have 50 hours of billable time or whatever it is to create as much value as possible. I don’t want to waste my time doing things, which are not going to be driving the business forward and to help my IPO in five years time!

Vanessa: 100 percent that is exactly it. It is about developing rules and once you set rules, it’s so much easier for people to say, well, that’s her rule, that’s the way it’s going to be because that’s the [00:39:00] rule. And we are rule followers, right? And so it’s easy to kind of lay out a rule and say, this is my policy, this is my rule, this is how I operate.

You get much more compliance from other people and you get much more agreement. You also come across as much more decisive. So for example, when we decided that do the podcast together, I told you that I do podcasts on Thursdays, Thursdays is my podcast day.

Now I developed that rule after launching my book and realizing that when I get podcasts every day, any time it became too chaotic and I couldn’t manage my week. It’s much easier to know that this is the day that I do podcasts and most people can always find the Thursday to talk to me if I tell them Thursdays is my day to do a podcast. And so it simply narrows your availability but also makes the [00:40:00] decision making easier, that many Thursdays in the next month, these are the Thursdays that are available and you can make rules for all sorts of things. I think one that the listeners would probably relate to is we make rules for ourselves when it comes to travel.

Very often, right? We all have our preferences. We’re either aisle seat people or window people. We are either red eye flight people or daytime flyers. We have rules about like where we like to holiday, how long we like to fly for those kinds of things. And we kind of develop our holiday plans or our travel plans around those rules because we know our preferences.

So if they can work in travel, it can work in pretty much any domain. Right. Can think about how do I like my days to be? How do I like my work mornings to be? And so, for example, I rarely have any meetings in the morning because my mornings are reserved for [00:41:00] creative time and writing time. I don’t go out for lunch very often.

The very, very rare exceptions because my daytime when I’m actually working is important. I’ll meet people at five for a walk but I will not do a middle of the day thing because it disrupts my work pattern. I might make exceptions depending on a week or somebody coming to town, of course, and that’s the beauty about personal policies. They are yours. You are totally allowed to make exceptions but not every day, all the time.

Harsha: I just love that, Vanessa. And I think that point about decision making, I think that’s really important because there are a finite number of decisions one can make because it is actually mentally very taxing.

So if you have rules in place, it just stops you from having to make trivial decisions. I remember that thing with Obama. He always [00:42:00] wore black suits. Purely so he wouldn’t have to think the same with Steve Jobs, or what do you have for lunch? And if you can take the trivial decisions out, then that really doesn’t empower you, but going back to your book, what I really liked is this matrix that you have for working out what to say, no, in terms of the cost to you and the benefit to others.

Vanessa: So I call it the “decipher your ask” matrix because many people ask me, so how do I even decide what to say yes to, and you have to say no to, and this is a very big part of self awareness. And another fundamental aspect of the book is saying no is not a selfish act. It is an act where you are constantly negotiating and balancing what you bring to the table and how you create value for others.

The way the matrix is divided is it’s got one axis, which is the cost that saying yes will be to you. Cost [00:43:00] in terms of anything, cost in terms of time, cost in terms of energy, emotions, stress, anxiety, conflict, everything. That’s all part of the cost. How painful is it going to be for you to do?

And balancing that against the benefit you, it can confer on the other person. So then you’ve got this two by two matrix where you’ve got high/ high, low/ low, high/ low, low/ high, right? And so the first category of asks is essentially something that I call past the salt asks. Past the salt asks are asks where the cost to you is very low, but the benefit to somebody else or the person asking is very high.

And so it’s like, if you’re sitting at the dining table, and the salt shaker is sitting in front of you, and someone says, hey, can you please pass the salt? You just lift it up and pass it along. Not hard for you, but you’ve presumably made a big difference to the other person’s [00:44:00] meal.

Those are the kind of asks which come easy to us. They leverage our strengths, they’re good, they’re easy for us to do. So doing them is helpful to other people who need those things done. As a professor, I spend a lot of time writing recommendation letters because it’s relatively easy task for me to do.

I know how to write a recommendation letter. I’ve written many, many, many of them, but it makes a big difference to my students: they get into their dream colleges, they  get into the job that they want. So this is a pass the salt ask. What we need to remember also is that the cost to us is very unique.

So what might be easy for me to do might not be easy for someone else. So recommendations, my letters might call cause a great deal of anxiety to somebody else. It’s a pass the salt ask for me. I think that that’s really important to remember this is based on your own [00:45:00] assessment, your own self awareness.

Now, probably the worst kind of asks are what I call bake your famous lasagna asks, it’s a careless ask. Someone’s asked you to do something that’s hugely effortful for you, like baking a lasagna, but the impact that it’s going to have is not that great. So the story I tell in the book is really about, someone is hosting a potluck and everyone’s invited to bring different dishes.

And that person says, well, you know, you make a really great lasagna. Why don’t you bring that? You feel stuck because you don’t know how to respond to that, but your response should really be no, because I’m not going to create value in a potluck with having spent my whole day baking it knowing fully well that everyone else is going to be buying cookies and stuff like that.

So [00:46:00] it’s learning to decipher and becoming really good at deciphering what kind of ask it is and the reason we need to say no to things like the bake your famous lasagna asks is so that we can say yes to Hero’s Journey.  Hero’s Journey asks are the asks, which might be hard to do, they’re not necessarily easy, but they do leverage your strengths.

They do showcase your talents. They do kind of highlight and underscore your personal brand and what you can bring to the table. And so Hero’s Journey asks are worth doing, because even though they are hard to do. They also confer a significant and meaningful benefit on the asker. And so those are important.

Those are how we make a difference in the world. We need to say no to the things that don’t matter, like the baking lasagna, so that we can say yes to going on these hero’s [00:47:00] journeys.

Harsha: You know, I love that point with the people I think who succeed really can figure out quite quickly. Okay, is this something that I should be doing or is it something I shouldn’t be doing?

Am I adding value? Am I not really adding value? It’s this constant sort of negotiation about, can you do this? Can you do that? I’m really trying to be aware of, it’s almost like the subtext, what is that person really trying to get me to do? And maybe it could be that it’s a small thing now that could lead to something else.

So it’s really having self awareness of, the bigger picture and the context, but yes, it’s really self awareness and thinking about the bigger picture. So, yeah, I love those points you make and, and really it’s going back to I’ve got a finite amount of resource. How do I manage this in the best way possible for myself and for that other person?

Vanessa: And it is really our responsibility to do that. Nobody else [00:48:00] can take responsibility for the way we choose to spend our time, right? We have to decide how we spend our time and make sure that. To the extent that it’s possible that we are creating a positive impact in whatever that we decide to invest our time in or our energy in.

Harsha: The final thing from your book, because I know we’re running out of time. You talk about people who are difficult askers as walnut trees. I love that, term you’ve come up with. So how can we best deal with those people who literally will not take no for an answer? It’s just like a massive negotiation.

Vanessa: While doing this research, you really realize that when you want to take the ART competencies and put them in the real world and you can learn how to say you’re empowered refusal, there are going to be people who are not going to take no for an answer. They will insist, they will push, they will haggle, they will negotiate, they will [00:49:00] bargain.

And those are the people who are the struggle to deal with, right? If you’ve got somebody in your life or a boss who just doesn’t listen to what you say, even though you’ve said you’re empowered, what do you do? And so I actually call these people walnut trees and so I use this metaphor, because in the literature, if you look at it these people are usually called toxic or jerks, all sorts of words, which have lots of negative connotations.

And as soon as you label some of the negative connotation, it becomes harder to deal with that person. So I’ve taken that and made it a much more easy to deal with, because I want people to be able to deal with a walnut tree, not shy away from the walnut tree.

So the idea of the walnut tree is essentially that the walnut tree, the black American walnut Is this towering tree that dominates the landscape. It’s got this luxuriant canopy and it has a root system that goes out [00:50:00] 50 feet. What’s interesting about that tree is that the root system exudes into the soil a chemical that is a herbicide.

And what it does is essentially stunts the growth of everything else. So we do meet people who behave like walnut trees. It’s all about them. It’s about them flourishing and stunting everybody else. If you say no to me, I don’t hear it because it’s all about me. Right. And most people can think about at least one Walnut tree that they know who behaves like a Walnut tree.

And we can also figure out ways to deal with people who are, who behave like Walnut trees. There’s several strategies in the book. The first is recognizing the pattern of behavior, recognizing Walnut tree behavior for what it is. The second is to identify what is the way in which to best to deal with this particular version of Walnut Tree?

And so [00:51:00] some Walnut Trees yell and scream and get angry. Other Walnut Trees bargain and negotiate. Other walnut trees give you a silent treatment and exclude you. You said no to me, I’m not going to talk to you anymore. So there are different strategies and people tend to be pretty consistent in the strategy they employ.

So we need to think about what’s the kind of walnut tree? What sort of nature do they have? And what is the best strategy that I can employ? I’ll give you broad ones because there are many in the book. One is Walnut Trees very often will make a face to face request, because we are 44 times more likely to say yes to a face to face request.

So a Walnut tree will make sure to ask you stuff face to face, come to your office and ask you stuff. So you want to make sure that you are ready with a response so that you convert that face to face response [00:52:00] into something that is digitally mediated. For example, I will email you. When I’ve had a chance to decide, right, is a good way to deal with that.

Another strategy that WalnutTree is able to use is to insist on an immediate response so that WalnutTree is most likely going to say, no, no, no, I need to know now and you have to be able to push back and say, I’m sorry, I really cannot commit right now. I will have to take the time to reflect on this.

They will insist on an immediate response. They’ll also pull power tricks. Walnut trees are very good persuaders, so they’ll figure out how to make you feel like you owe them. They might remind you of a previous obligation, things that make you feel really guilty. And so we really need to learn the patterns and develop our own abilities, our own skills, our own resistance [00:53:00] mechanisms to be able to deal with these difficult people.

Harsha: I just love that because I think life is about very much about pattern recognition and saying, okay, I’ve seen this in the past, generally, it’s going to repeat itself again. So it’s almost like these subtle cues, you’re picking them up. And I think the quicker you can pick it up, and the quicker you can realize, the agenda or the way it’s going down, almost to try and cut it out.

But I like that point you’re making about, yeah, just can I get back to you and then email them the refusal because yeah, it’s very difficult to say, sorry, but you could just say, I need to check my calendar. I mean, that’s one thing I always do now. I need to check my calendar. I’ll get back to you. I know that we’re is running close to the time, but just a couple of things.

How can people get in touch with you? I know that you’re on LinkedIn. Obviously, you’ve got your website and all this stuff will be on the show notes, but is there any other way that people can interact with you Vanessa?

Vanessa: [00:54:00] So I’m on LinkedIn, which I use most often. I’m also on Instagram. My website has a contact information, That’s probably the best way to get in touch.

Harsha: Fantastic. And one final thing, is there anybody in your life or in your career you’d like to give a quick shout out to who’s helped you?

Vanessa: My parents, for sure. They have been amazing. Right through my entire life, they’ve been completely awesome. I’d also like to give a shout out to my daughter who teaches me every day and often tells me, mom, you wrote the book on saying, no, you should be better at it. She is so good and she has learned a lot of stuff that I’ve been teaching, but she actually practices it very, very well.

Harsha: So she’s good at saying no to you.

Vanessa: She’s good at saying, she’s very good at thinking about what she wants and saying no to the things that don’t matter. She’s very good. I admire her focus. [00:55:00]

Harsha: Excellent, very good. Vanessa, it’s been such a pleasure having you on the show. I loved our conversation. And the funny thing is, I was thinking about talking to you about Robert Cialdini because, I love his work and Influence and all those sort of things.

Generally, that’s one person I always mention on my podcast. And I’m speaking to a professor of marketing, who I’m sure is a big fan but we just never got around to that, but I’ll still give a quick shout out because I just love that book, Influence and the whole way of just presenting things.

I do think that if you can present things according to a particular design, you can influence people in a very dramatic way, but not doing it in an underhanded or sneaky way. I mean, things like social proof and consistency and after we’ve done this podcast, I can say I’ve had Professor Vanessa Patrick on my [00:56:00] podcast!

Vanessa: Yes his work is really excellent and it really is insightful because it draws on human behavior and how we tend to be and one of the interesting things if you read his book Influence, one of the things that got him interested in influence is. the fact that he found himself saying yes to a whole bunch of things.

And he was so curious as to how that happened. I think, my work is obviously the flip side of that, but it’s the other side of the same coin.

Harsha: Fantastic. Vanessa, thanks so much. And hopefully Snoop Dogg will be contacting you in the future.

Vanessa: I look forward to it. Thank you so much for having me. This was a delightful conversation.

Harsha: Thanks, Vanessa. Have a good rest of the day.


*Reframe & Reset Your Career, including any comments made by the host and guests, is for informational purposes only and does not constitute advice of any description, including but not restricted to financial, legal, investing or medical advice.*

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