Three Considerations when Saying No at Work

We are often told by well meaning people that we need to “take a step back,” “draw a line,” or “learn to say no” when it appears that we have too much on our plates. This, however, is easier said than done and not always advisable when it comes to being successful in our careers and creating a good environment at work.

Good communities and good careers are not built on saying no. It is definitely necessary to learn how to draw certain lines to avoid being taken advantage of, but for the most part saying yes can pay off big. It can help to create a culture of “yes” in the community where everybody tries to help each other instead of seeming to attempt to take as small a share of the communal work as possible.

In addition, saying yes can reap professional rewards for the individual. Being seen as somebody who is up for anything and consistently helpful makes you an obvious choice to advance in your career. When your boss needs to delegate some higher level duties, she is going to be far more likely to give these new responsibilities to somebody she knows can handle the extra work load and makes the work environment easier for everybody. The accepted wisdom is that when you really need a job done; give it to someone who is busy.

The other huge advantage to being a “yes” person is that your nos carry far more weight. When you’re seen as a “yes” person, people assume that on the rare occasions you do say no that you truly can’t do what they are requesting as opposed to assuming that you simply don’t want to do it.

For example, Susie always says yes. She is willing to pick up a co-worker’s shift when needed, she agrees to represent her department at committee meetings, and she is always up to play in the company-wide softball game. One day Susie’s boss, Bob, asks her if she would be willing to come into work early every day to let the vending machine delivery man in. Susie is already pressed for time in the mornings because she has to drop her kids off at daycare and she has a long commute and so she tells Bob “I can’t do that but please let me know if there is anything I could do to facilitate the vending machine delivery after 8:00 a.m.” Because Susie has always said yes in the past, Bob knows that she would come in early if she could and does not press the issue. He also notes her willingness to help in other ways.

Three things to consider:

  • You make better decisions about saying yes or no when you have a clear direction for your career.
  • Saying no to one request can be an opportunity to offer other ways of being helpful.
  • Either yes or no can strengthen a relationship; what matters is mutual consideration.

How do you balance your desire to help out with your need to not be taken advantage of or to “draw lines?”

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