In my time as a trainer, I have come across far too many people who believe they cannot say “NO” to people at work. They normally believe:

  • It’s rude to say “NO”
  • You can’t say “NO” to senior people
  • Saying “NO” is a sign of being irresponsible

These beliefs are wrong. In fact, when you cannot deliver on your promises, saying “NO” is worse than saying “Yes”. So, to challenge your thinking on this, here are 5 reasons you SHOULD say “NO”:

  1. They Don’t Know Your Schedule:

You are actually a busy person, they just don’t know it. You have important tasks to complete today, and if you don’t complete them then it’s going to cause delays for other people.

For example, you’re in the middle of completing a proposal for an important client. They want this proposal this afternoon and if they like it, then this will generate huge sales for your company. But then your department head has just phoned you up and said there’s a monthly update meeting that they can’t attend this morning, so they would like you to attend instead and take notes to report back to them on what they missed. Are you really just going to say “Yes” to this request?

The thing with Senior leaders is that fewer people challenge them. Some don’t like being challenged, but in my time I have met plenty of Senior leaders who appreciate a bit of reasonable push back. In fact, some even prefer it. And think about the above example, what would be better for the business overall? Sending that proposal, or attending that meeting?

Just because the person asking you is senior, does not mean they know what important things you are already working on. At the end of the day, senior leaders should be far more concerned with tasks that contribute to the business than tasks that contribute to their convenience.

  • You Can Offer Alternatives:

“No” does not mean “I refuse to help you”. A more positive way of rejecting a request is to offer an alternative solution.

Going back to the example above, you could first explain the reason why you can’t attend that meeting, and then suggest an alternative solution. You could suggest other colleagues who are not as busy as you this morning, or you could ask why your department head doesn’t have time to go and if there’s anything you can do to help with that, or you could offer to go during a future meeting instead.

Honestly, a lot of the time people will be able to accept a simple “No + Reason”, but when you add on an alternative solution to that, they will be very appreciative of your attitude. Even though you have refused their request, showing a willingness to help as best as you can will help you build up goodwill with the other person. It will turn a negative “No” into a positive “No”.

  • You Can’t Please Everyone

Businesses have costs. If a business does not make enough money to cover its costs, then it will go out of business. I find that the larger the company I am working with, the harder this concept is for people to understand because they are so far removed from the front-line of the business.

Regardless of whether you are in a small business or a big business, your ultimate responsibility is to justify your value, not please everyone. Are you creating more value than the cost of keeping you employed? If yes, then you are doing a good job. If no, then you are extremely fortunate to have a job, but should be concerned about the future.

It is not your ultimate responsibility to please everyone. Sometimes, the belief of needing to please everyone drives people to take on more responsibilities than they can handle. Their focus becomes scattered, each task they try to do becomes less and less effective, the projects they are working on get delayed, and the people they are working with become very frustrated. Not only this, but these poor people pleasers end up incredibly stressed out and burnt out themselves.

Yes, you are meant to please some people. Those people are your stakeholders. Stakeholders are anyone who is influenced by, or can influence, a project. Some stakeholders are more important than others. If you’re not sure who your stakeholders are or which ones are the most important, then you should sit down with your supervisor and clarify this, because a lot of the value you create in your job is measured by how satisfied your stakeholders are with you.

But even so, if you try to please so many people that you end up not creating enough value to justify your job, then you need to reconsider just how many people you should be pleasing.

  • What Happens If You Don’t Come Back?

Imagine you say “Yes” to every single task and request that comes your way. What would your life be like?

You’d probably sleep shorter hours. You’d wake up at 4am to respond to emails from all your overseas colleagues working on different time zones to you. You’d work several hours to handle all the emergency issues they emailed you about. Then you’d probably spend a few more hours in conference calls and other meetings. Then you’d probably spend a few more hours working on all sorts of favours for other people. Then a few more hours of meetings. Then maybe one hour to focus on your work, then maybe 10 minutes for dinner, before a few more hours of conference calls with your overseas colleagues, before finally going to sleep at 1am.

The thought of anyone working like that scares me. We are not super humans, our bodies and minds get stressed when we don’t take enough time to relax, and when we get too stressed all sorts of functions start to shut down. It can be a very dangerous path to go down, and one that can even result in death. Remember, you only die once. Do you really want to die for your job?

But let’s stop thinking about ourselves for a moment. Imagine that we go out one day to get a cup of coffee from across the street, and as we are crossing the road we get hit by a bus. We’re now hospitalised for several months, unable to do any work. What happens to all the projects you were working on now?

Everything you were working on would come to a halt. Emergencies would go unresolved, projects would miss their deadlines, colleagues might start to quit out of frustration and even customers would start to give up on the business.

In short, taking on too much work is not good for anyone. It’s bad for you, your health and even your lifespan, and it is especially bad for the business.

  • It’s Good Practice

The ability to say “No” with confidence and in a way that leaves people feeling satisfied, is a skill that will not only make your life easier, it will also help you progress your career faster. And like any other skill, there is only one way to master it; practice.

So, the next time you need to say no to someone, try using this simple template:

  • I’m already working on…(your reason for saying “No”)
  • So, I can’t help you with that. (directly say “No”)
  • But what I can do is…(suggest an alternative solution)