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Say No in Order to Say Yes for Career Success

Updated: Sep 18, 2018

It's one of the shortest and most powerful words in the world, yet why do so many of us have a hard time saying it?




Humans are social animals. We like to be liked. We like to fit in. We like to help our fellow humans. This is basically a good thing… until it isn’t. Many of us have a tough time saying no in a professional capacity. We feel that if someone asks us to do something that falls within our job description that we need to say yes to it and begin on the request immediately. When you say yes to every request, recognize that you are increasing your stress levels, causing others to lose respect for you, and negatively impacting your job performance. If this statement rocks your world and causes you to say (with just the tiniest whine in your voice), “Yeah, but it’s my job, what can I do? I have no control” – please read on.

The reality is that you have lots of control. You have at your disposal one of the strongest powers in the universe.

The reality is that you have lots of control. You have at your disposal one of the strongest powers in the universe. That power is the word NO. This doesn’t have to be a harsh no, and it doesn’t have to be a defensive no. It can be a no that makes people feel grateful for that time in the future when you can finally say yes. And even if they don’t thank you for telling them no, if you have the courage to start to say no more often, you will soon start to experience the feeling of more control and you'll know you are doing the right thing


Let’s think about this. When you come into work each day, you probably have a to-do list of things that you intend to complete. When someone comes to you with an “emergency” that only you can handle and you say yes, you are making a choice to bump your own priorities further down the list. Suddenly, your priorities aren’t priorities any more and if you are going to complete your to-do list items, you either have to work longer hours or you have to let things go until tomorrow and either option isn’t good for you. And if you’re one of those generous souls who has been tagged as the go-to person who is “always so helpful” then there’s a good chance that tomorrow there will be another crisis that only you can handle.

You’ll find that the first no is the hardest!

Obviously, there are real emergencies and there are people (like your boss) who have the authority to legitimately re-prioritize your to-do list. I’m not suggesting that a dentist turn away the patient whose tooth has been knocked out because she wasn't on that day’s appointment list. What I am suggesting is to take a step back and see who comes to you regularly with requests that “only you” can handle.

Ask yourself these 4 questions:


  1. Do these requests impact your ability to handle your own priorities?

  2. Is this a co-worker or someone outside your chain of command?

  3. Are these requests a result of lack of planning on the part of the requester?

  4. Are these requests being made without your boss’s knowledge and explicit support? 

If the answers to these questions are yes, then it’s time for you to start saying no. Your “no” doesn’t have to be a “hell no” or “never”. It can be, “I’ll get to it if I have time after I finish my priorities.” You’ll find that the first no is the hardest and when people see that you are not the path of least resistance that they will likely find other ways of addressing their needs like learning to do the task themselves, putting off the task, or finding someone else to help them. You will also find that you are spending your time more efficiently and that people respect your time more because YOU are valuing your time more.

When people see that you are not the path of least resistance that they will likely find other ways of addressing their needs.

Saying no to requests that are not your priority will allow you to say yes to achieving your goals more quickly, and reclaiming the power to decide what you do with your time and energy. I’d love to hear what you are able to say yes to as a result of beginning to say no.


And if you’re looking to advance in your career and derive more satisfaction from what you do each day, but can’t identify or overcome the obstacles that stand in your way, please reach out to me to schedule a complimentary discovery session to explore how to advance in a career you love with balance and grace.

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© 2018 Terry B. McDougall