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What Will Happen if You Say No at Work?


say no, learn to say noAre you able to say “no” when asked to take on a new role, new project or other requests for a big chunk of your time?

Many of my initiatives include successful women who lead projects, take on challenges or juggle multiple initiatives.

Yes, as women we are often known for being multi-taskers, hard workers and quick to jump in and say “yes.” But what if we took time to pause, get more information and assess what is being asked of us. What would happen? Would our peers or boss think less of us?

So why do women respond with “yes” more than “no?” Here are a few of the things women share: “I say yes too often because:

  • The project won’t get done.” or
  • “Our boss will never ask us to work on the project we DO want to work on.” or
  • ”People will be disappointed in us and may even stop including us in important conversations.”

Wow. That is a heavy load to put on one simple word: No.

So let’s take an example and follow it through.

Our boss asks us to take on a project from another co-worker, even though our load is already heavy. Saying yes may convert to long hours for little or no recognition. Saying yes may convert to working with a department head we don’t respect. Saying yes may convert to taking time away from the work we enjoy and excel at. Saying yes may convert to making work a chore rather than a stimulating and satisfying experience.

Why would we say yes to any of those outcomes?

Now imagine if you say no or at least investigate the options and suggest other resources.

If not a direct “No,” consider what questions you can ask to get more information and even offload existing tasks so you have the time and attention without sacrificing your personal life too much.

I discuss this concept in a recent LinkedIn article entitled “Are You Aligned with the Right Work?

What I have learned when assigned new work, is to ask some of these questions:

  • What are the expected results of this project?
  • Who is already involved in this project?
  • What are the inter-dependencies of this work within the organization?
  • What known obstacles exist?
  • Why is this project important to the company?

Once you have more information, gauge how you feel about the request. Even with new levels of perspective and awareness, many women lose the ability to say “no.” What happens? Often we end up agreeing to tasks, projects, promotions that aren’t in our best interest.

When to Say No

The time to say no is when the project or task you are being asked to do is counterproductive to where you are now or where you plan to take your career next.  Many would align this with your professional brand. If you want to be known as a voice for profitability then saying yes to a project that takes you away from that focus may not be a good use of your time or focus unless the project is a stepping stone that you can negotiate up front. Caution, it is important to have everything in writing as people change roles and sometimes forget verbal promises.

Being crystal clear about your commitments and your alignment to those commitments is a critical piece of the equation. Offering opportunities that come your way to other people or team members could be mutually beneficial.

What I have learned from some of the most effective leaders, is that the more methodical you are about what consumes your 168 hours a week, the more impactful you will be. Becoming hyper-aware of how you spend your time can be an active catalyst towards your goals.

Create an action plan to get where you want to go next

Most of the problem with managing your schedule comes from either a misunderstanding of or a loss of focus on your commitments. When you implement a few simple strategies, it’s easier to align to your goals.

Get Your Mind Around Saying No

Once you are clear on the direction of your career, it is time to start practicing. It is time to actually say no. How do you do that without alienating those that might help you advance in your career? Below are a few examples of how you can respond without creating a negative exchange and without taking on the project.

  1. Practice Saying No to Your Boss

As an example, your boss asks you to take on an additional project that another department/person hasn’t been able to complete. It isn’t a task that aligns with your goals, yet, your boss is known for delegating anything and everything to you because you are known for getting things accomplished. It is a great time to practice aligning to the right asks for your time:

“Thanks, Jack for that assignment, however, before you leave, let’s go over the tasks that are already on my plate so that you can help prioritize which projects are most important to the company/department right now and then let’s see where this new project would fit and if this aligns to our goals.”

You aren’t saying yes and you aren’t saying no. This tactic allows you to have an honest conversation with your boss about priorities and will also remind them of the projects you are already responsible for. Suddenly, it isn’t you saying no, but hopefully, it is your boss reassigning tasks to someone else.

  1. Practice Saying No to a Non-Profit

One of the more common asks of women in business is to serve on a non-profit board or committee during their spare time. If this organization doesn’t line up with your goals for career advancement, then you will need to say no. But how do you say no to a charity without sounding, well, bad?

“I’m honored that you would consider me for this non-profit position, however, at this time my non-profit hours are already allocated to other projects and I’m committed to them for the time being. I would be happy to help when I have completed some of my current obligations but perhaps someone else would be able to help you in the meantime.”

3. Advancing Others – Your ‘No’ Could Excel Others

Have you ever said, “Oh I might as well say yes, it is the only way something will get done.” It is true that when we have experience in a variety of roles, often just doing it ourselves will help the project in the short term. But I ask you this: how did you get your start? Did someone offer to help mentor you? Were you given a chance to try something and it eventually became a skill you enjoy?

When we say no, that means that someone else gets to say yes. Notice I said, “gets to.” When we say no, someone will have the opportunity to fill our shoes and give the project a try. They may not do it the same way we would or even as fast or as efficiently, but the task will be complete and someone else will gain valued experience. In fact, when we say no, we could be offering this opportunity for another person to showcase skill sets to advance their career.

Over the years I have had the opportunity to speak with hundreds of women at all different stages in their career and across many industries and they all struggle with this simple task. Saying no involves our ego, our guilt and our sense of fairness and obligation. Creating a level of comfort with aligning to the right at the right time, even if it disappoints others, takes time and practice.  Yes, you will disappoint and even frustrate others and sometimes you will have to give in too.  It is not an all or nothing solution but it is a way to create boundaries and protect your schedule so you can create an effective working relationship with awareness of what you want to impact next.

If saying no is a challenge for you, if you aren’t sure when to say yes and what projects to decline, I invite you to check out my Power of No bundle; free resources for women in business to help maximize your time and align to meaningful work to catapult towards your desired goals. The Power of No may just be the bundle of knowledge you need to help change your behavior. Check it out at https://www.techsavvywomen.net/powerofno

JJ DiGeronimo, President of Tech Savvy Women, is one of the most highly regarded speakers, authors and executive strategists to attract, retain and advance professional women. Through her keynotes and executive sessions, JJ shares effective leadership, influence and inclusion strategies to accelerate professional women.