How to say 'no'– why saying ‘yes’ isn’t always best for your career

How to say 'no'– why saying ‘yes’ isn’t always best for your career

Written by Professional Academy Management & Leadership Tutor, Kathryn Knights

Building a successful career is all about making the right choices. You can’t say ‘yes’ to every opportunity that presents itself to you. Sometimes you need to say ‘no’, but that’s often the answer we struggle hardest with to give. Why? Because we don’t like to hurt people’s feelings.

Saying ‘no’ is a key life skill that is worth spending some time investing in. Your energy comes from only one source – you. Saying ‘no’ helps you to conserve your energy. Just remember that in order to give your best you need to look after yourself first.

Saying ‘no’ will help you to:

  • Set out your priorities
  • Achieve your goals
  • Focus on the things that are important to you, rather than other people
  • Feel more rested
  • Stop feeling stressed

So how do you do it?

1) Know your priorities

What are your top five priorities? Once you have identified them, write them down and stick them up somewhere where you’ll see them every single day. Once you know what your priorities are you can start to make decisions about requests for your time based on those priorities. For example, your priority list might look like this:

know your priorities
  1. Work
  2. Children
  3. Husband
  4. Wider family
  5. Friends

Once your list is clear it’s time to put it into action. For example, if you receive a request from your sister-in-law inviting you to her party in four weeks’ time, but you also receive an invitation to an awards ceremony where you will be named Sales Person of the Year then your choice would be to attend the ceremony rather than the party. Why? Because your work supersedes your wider family in your priority list and the awards ceremony you have been invited to is a rare opportunity for you to be in front of a wide audience who could take your career to the next level.  Making your decision to not go the party doesn’t make you a bad person and it doesn’t mean that your sister-in-law isn’t important to you. As long as you explain the reason for your decision calmly and politely then it will more than likely be received positively.

2) Practice saying ‘no’

practise saying 'no'

Practice makes perfect. Saying ‘no’ as often as you can is a great way to improve this important life skill. Say it out loud rather than just in your head so you feel comfortable with how it sounds and how it feels. There will be some occasions where the person you are speaking with is being very persistent. In those situations it pays to just keep repeating the word ‘no’. Don’t apologise or back down. Remain firm but polite.

3) Don’t say ‘no’ straight away

don't say 'no' straight away

You don’t always have to give an answer to someone’s request straight away. It’s quite acceptable to tell the other person that you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration and to check the request against your priority list (see point 1 above). Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them that you’ve given their request some thought and that you cannot accommodate them.

Of course there may be times when the request you are given fits in with your priorities but the timing isn’t right for you. In those instances you might want to say something like: ‘It sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Could we re-visit it in [give timeframe] ’.

And finally…

Saying ‘no’ doesn’t mean removing the word ‘yes’ from your vocabulary. It’s natural that once you become more comfortable saying ‘no’ that you’ll start to say it more often. However, there are things in life that we have to do and don’t enjoy…like cleaning the oven or helping your parents’ move house. Life is about balance, and whilst saying ‘no’ will bring many benefits to you, don’t forget that giving a helping hand to someone in need is a priceless good feeling.

If you need further advice, get in touch via My Website or Linkedin.


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