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Ury, William (2007) The Power of a Positive No: How to Say No and Still Get to Yes, New York: Bantam Dell.

‘Read to better balance my work and non-work life? I don’t have time for that!’

What workers who feel like fully loaded camels operating under a constant rain of straws (read rising and altogether new expectations) rarely want is one more thing to do.

However, to preserve your own physical, mental, and spiritual health under conditions of time poverty and task saturation that make you feel desperately overextended if not “hopelessly overburdened” (Janes 2009: 64), the first thing you must do is to read The Power of a Positive No.

Museum workers ourselves can be among the primary authors of this sad story of work overload in our field. Volunteers and paid staff strive for excellence and are personally devoted to and enthusiastic about the cause of heritage preservation and interpretation. We love what we do for a living or undertake as avocation. In the face of insufficient resources to meet increasing unresourced expectations, the strong personal commitment to excel at what we do drives us to work harder–to take more and more tasks onto our personal workloads. Quite simply, we must stop doing this!

Participants in the British Columbia Museums Association 2006 annual conference Ideas Café session “Fully Loaded Camels: Strategies for Survival” clearly identified the first strategy to deal with the worsening work overloads that many of us encounter: Just learn to say No! Undeniably, this is easy to say in the abstract–but difficult to put into actual practice.

To be successful in this approach to self-preservation, author William Ury, Director of the Global Negotiation Project at Harvard, presents a practical strategy. Ury argues that we must base a “No” on first saying a positive “Yes” to our own values and core interests (Ury 2007: 2, 17-18, 34, 43, 80-1, passim).

These fundamental personal considerations are all too often overpowered by corporate, collegial, and broader social pressures. Indeed, there is a new positive value on workaholism (Fry et al. 2006: 330, 338). These imperatives reinforce workers’ fear [of losing respect or even one’s job] and guilt [about ‘letting the team down’].

To combat these strong pressures, Ury sets out a workable problem-solving route to self-preservation at work. It takes all relevant personal factors into account in saying No. Ury shows workers how to begin by saying a positive Yes to our own interests, then saying a positive No to unrealistic expectations, and finally saying Yes to negotiated solutions that respect the real world and the worker’s place in it.

This extremely worthwhile read is available widely in the public and academic library systems. There also is a CD audio book format to which you can listen while stuck in traffic or driving on a well-deserved vacation.

Note that 56% of workers fail to take all the vacation time due them (Bunting 2004: 10) so, using Ury’s process, many of us do need to say No in order to preserve some work/life balance!

References Cited:

Bunting, Madeline (2004) Willing Slaves: How the Overwork Culture is Ruling Our Lives, London: HarperCollins Publishers.

Janes, Robert R. (2009) Museums in a Troubled World: Renewal, Irrelevance or Collapse? New York: Routledge.

Fry, Louis W., Laura L. Matherly, and Steve Vitucci (2006) ‘Spiritual Leadership Theory as a Source for Future Theory, Research and Recovery from Workaholism’, in  Ronald J. Burke (ed.) Research Companion to Working Time and Work Addiction, Cheltenham, UK & Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar.