“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.” — Warren Buffet
We are constantly looking for ways to prove ourselves, especially when starting a new job. And refusing to accept responsibility can feel like a step backwards. Also, so much of the modern workplace is based on great teamwork, and we all want to be valued and respected by our coworkers.
Plus, when a dynamic power is involved, we are even more inclined to agree and consider it later.
That is why saying no can feel like a betrayal of team values.
Why do we find it so difficult to say no?
There this belief that when we say "No," as in "I am unable to do that at the moment," we are letting others down.
The thing that makes us uncomfortable with it is that we want to protect our relationships, and when it comes to perfect strangers, it’s about maintaining appearances.
By nature, we want to be helpful. That’s among the things that make us human.
However, it can be a trap.
Saying yes too often can hurt our relationships, and our performance at work is affected. When that happens, we've all let down not just anybody but ourselves.
Unless there is a strong reason to say yes, we must be resolved to say no to everything.
What happens if we don't say no often?
From Patti Breitman’s and Connie Hatch's book "How to Say No Without Feeling Guilty", if we don’t say “no”:
"...we dissipate our most valuable personal resources—time, energy, and money—on things that aren’t important to us. Each time we agree to something without enthusiasm for interest, we waste a little more of these precious resources."
Aside from that, here are the most important reasons:
Our task-effectiveness decreases. Even if we assume that everyone in our life is looking out for our best interests, they don't have enough information to prioritize our needs. And when their needs overlap with ours, it’s not multitasking. It’s simply spending more time on one task on to another. This affects our task effectiveness, and sometimes worse, depending on the difficulty and urgency of other priorities.
We can't say yes to better opportunities. The harsh reality is that when we say "yes" to other things, we are effectively saying "no" to future tasks or projects. That is, we are closing the doors to the tasks we already have, where we might have a ticket to more interesting and pivotal projects and/or roles. Bear in mind that accepting something new can always have an effect on your current work, on how your superiors evaluate your performance, and on how you are perceived for promotions.
We're frustrated and stressed at the end. Trying to juggle a full schedule of activities can result in burnout. According to University of California research, our inability to say no can increase our risk of burnout, stress, and even depression. Additionally, putting others' needs ahead of our own is counterproductive in the long run. When our mental health deteriorates, every aspect of our lives deteriorates as well.
So while saying yes may speed up our careers, the opposite may also be true.
When To Say No
Assess things first before declining them. Will it assist you in achieving your career objectives? Are you passing up an offer that could put you in a tight spot? or Are you able to make valuable contacts who could serve as mentors or coaches?
Because if we skip this process, people will stop asking for things after a while (like inviting us to really cool, exciting, important opportunities). Instead, we can try to be known for the careful way we speak—even in difficult conversations.
If those questions didn’t give much clarity when to say no, try considering the following:
If it contradicts your values and beliefs.
You are not qualified for a position or responsibility.
The task or the company may be jeopardized.
The task is outside of your normal responsibilities.
The request is unnecessary.
You're already overloaded with other responsibilities.
For a more straightforward approach, just be honest, and do not make excuses. For example, when you have something to finish for your after-work studies. Or, if it is because you are asked to do something that you are not good at.
You could also suggest to someone who has more expertise, knowledge, or interest than you to make use of their knowledge or abilities. Another option to consider is the situation in which a team member has volunteered to take on a new project. It is always nice to receive these accommodations, but if the project is time-sensitive and you are concerned about having to micromanage them to guarantee it is completed on time, consider suggesting a different project with greater leeway.
Scenarios To Whom You Should Say No, and How
To say no means we have made a choice and are in agreement with our focus and priorities. It's also important to have courage and confidence to stand up to people, as well as humility, finesse, and gratitude to avoid appearing like a jerk.
Here are some scenarios to whom and where you can say no politely:
To A Colleague
Some of your colleagues may ask you to assist with their side project in which you have little expertise (or interest). In case you have time, you could think of helping anyway because your relationship with your friend will be strengthened and seen as someone willing to pitch in, or it is in line with your interests.
But if you're dead set on passing up the opportunity because you know you’re not really good at it, or has a full plate at the moment, be sure to skip making an excuse about how you'd help if you weren't so overloaded. Also, if you say that and then take on new projects, they will know you're uninterested and lied.
Again, be honest with the real reason. For example, you can say "I appreciate you asking me, and it sounds like a thrilling endeavor. However, I'm terrible about it, and unfortunately, I will not be very helpful."
To Team Members
Usually, when there are team projects, members will come to you with new ideas, which you want to encourage and show appreciation. But when there’s already a clear and approved plan, what you would most likely want for them to do is follow the plan.
Surely, "No, we must do it my way." will put anyone on the bad side.
Instead, you want your message to show that you value employee input, but it is a project where everyone must strictly adhere to the plan. Remember to always include a "why" in addition to your "no" so that you don't come across as obstinate.
Try saying something like, "Thank you for sharing those suggestions, [name of team member]. If we want to meet our deadline for this project, we must follow the instructions exactly as they are written. This plan has been approved, and any changes could send us back to the drawing deck. Like always, do not hesitate to approach me if anything is unclear or if you have any questions.”
Customers will always have a variety of demands/requests. The first thing you should do is allow them to express themselves completely. Listen for key concerns they raise or issues they believe as an approach that will help solve their concerns.
When responding with your plan, highlight how you deal with the same issues (rather than how you refused their ideas/plan). You can say "I hear your concern about the fact that you are not sold on the proposed project. But I worry about the competition that you suggested and I know that one of your main objectives is to earn profits. Can I go through how we got to this one and other competitors you might want to consider?"
To Our Boss
This is a critical hurdle when saying “no”. It can’t be avoided that when your boss asks you to do something, it can be intimidating to say no. If this happens, avoid using a flat "no" or an awkward, passive-aggressive decline statement. Instead, say something like, "Thank you so much for thinking of me for this, but I was planning to finish [name of other projects] this week."
This method works because first, it assures that you are in your manager’s mind when new and exciting projects arise. Second, if your boss is aware that this new task is more important, he/she is more likely to say, "Let's push those other projects aside for later." and ensure that you are on the same page in terms of priorities.
Saying no is not about being self-centered. It's about being prudent with the time you have each day.
When you say no, it demonstrates that you are aware of your priorities and what is meaningful to you. And, while this is not always easy, it enables you to create a daily schedule that is meaningful and purposeful.
Occasionally, it will be necessary especially for the right reasons. Moreover, the ability to say no can let us be more honest and authentic with interacting with others. Where they may learn to approach us for the things to which we are more likely to say yes. Also, people may come to respect our yes rather than take it for granted, our resources can be more appropriately allocated, and our connection and communication with them can improve as well.
It’s really important to learn how, when, and to whom to say no because your time is important just as for anybody else, and especially in growing your career.