Success and the art of saying ‘No’

Saying ‘no’ is something a lot of us struggle with. There are so many instances in our daily lives when we end up agreeing to do something, much against our wishes. This is true both in personal as well as professional space. It is like a vicious cycle and we continue to say yes with the hope of pleasing the other person and getting the required outcome.

One of the primary reasons why we struggle to say ‘No’ is that we do not want to disappoint others or be seen as selfish. In today’s times, there are many of us who say ‘yes’ when they wanted to say ‘no’ because our intent is to please the other person. We agree against our will just to make someone else happy. Saying no can cause guilt or impact our personal relationships and hence, we agree to attend that birthday party in the times of pandemic, even though they believe it is unsafe. That one phone call from a close family member stating that ‘He really wants to see you’- nudges us to go ahead and say yes.

Saying no is even more difficult when it comes to the professional world. There are numerous reasons and preconceived notions to blame for this. Saying no implies that the individual does not intend to take initiative. It is also seen as an act of someone who is not a team player and does not have the required skill-set to go beyond his/her comfort zone.

Also, some of us believe that saying no means that we are not making the most of the opportunities that come our way. And, this will in turn elude money, fun, success and happiness. Most importantly, a lot of us keep avoiding saying no as we believe it can upset our reporting Manager. We do not want to end up in an argument or degrade our relationship with our Boss as it can impact our future growth in the organisation at large. We take up tasks that were never a part of the day’s schedule and we have no time for, since the Manager wants them on priority. We add unwanted jobs on to our workload and end up either spending extra hours working or delivering sub-standard work due to paucity of time. And this is not just one time incident. When we start accepting such unwanted and last minute requests, we give our Manager an easy access and end up being the dumping ground for any additional work coming his/her way. We continue to put extra hours with the false hope of pleasing our Manager. The result- additional stress, reduction in productivity, and even burnout syndrome, in the long run.

It is important to say ‘no’ professionally

Saying ‘no’ has a wide range of advantages. It is no rocket science to understand that one can never be productive if he/she takes on too many responsibilities. In today’s times, the requests for additional support could come in at any time of the day, thanks to technology that ensures we are always connected. It could be a simple call, an email, an SMS or a WhatsApp asking you to spend an extra hour or two to take up an urgent task, as there is no one else who could possibly handle it better than you do. However, accepting such tasks all the time, could hamper productivity as well as increase one’s stress levels.

Saying ‘no’ is imperative to one’s success and it is best if we pick this up early in our careers. Here are some tips on mastering the ‘art of saying no’:

  • Know your priorities

This is the key. One should clearly outline his/her priorities in life-both personally as well as at work. When you have a good sense of your priorities, you can evaluate any new opportunity and decide whether it needs to be taken ahead or politely declined. Do not try to be the best employee, best team member, best professional, best friend, and best colleague, all at the same time. To give an example, if you are focusing on delivering the best in the role you have been hired for, spending hours hand-holding your colleague and doing his tasks, at the cost of your own deliverable, is not a wise idea. Or if you want to be a great team leader, not being empathetic and unnecessarily troubling your employees so they spend extra hours at work will not help. Priorities can shift but at any given point in time, you need to be clear about the top 5 things that matter to you and define your road-map accordingly. This will do away with the guilt and also ensure you are focused.

  • Value your time

As an individual, you need to value your own time. You need to ensure that just because you have additional time at hand, you are not being forced to work long hours. You need to know your commitments and how valuable your time is- even if it is about spending that hour in the gym every evening or just spending time playing your favourite sport. You need to understand that your time is precious and you have all the right to use it the way you want. And if someone tries to push that extra work at the cost of your personal time, you should politely decline by saying ‘ I just cannot right now, my plate is already overloaded’

  • Practice saying No

We are groomed to say yes to new opportunities coming our way. Hence, it is best if we practice saying no. This will ensure that we are comfortable with using the word. Also, in case you come across those intimidating Managers who keep insisting, you should politely keep saying no. Sooner than later, they will get the message and back off.

  • There is no need to apologise

This is a big trap. A lot of us believe that we need to apologise if we are saying no to our Managers or to an opportunity, as it seems more polite. That’s not the case. If you do not want to take up that extra task, just be firm and say no. Do not worry about the impact, as you will have to choose what fits into your priorities.

  • Stop being nice

This is another common reason why one tends to say yes. You believe that saying yes will ensure that you are in the good books of others. You do not realise that saying yes all the time will only hurt you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you decline, they will look for easier targets. You need to show people that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.

  • Sleep over it

It is okay to not respond immediately to a request and buy time. This has dual advantage- one, you do not have the pressure of instantly saying no (especially when you are caught off guard), and second, you can give it a fair consideration and come back with a response, supplemented by logical reasoning.

To conclude, we spend a majority of our lives saying yes to everything that comes our way. We often do not consider saying no as an option. This is because we do not realise that saying no is essential for our success and happiness. One needs to practice saying no as the lack of it can result in stress, burnout and even depression. We need to let go of the fear, anxiety and guilt that we may feel when saying no. We should move away from focusing our energies on how people perceive us and instead focus on our own goals and passions. Bottom line is that it takes courage to say no and to stay focused on your priorities. The path to success and happiness will have its share of roadblocks and people we may not be able to please. The sooner we accept it, the better it is!


The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Akanksha Jain
Akanksha is a seasoned brand communications professional with over 15 years of experience in working across global/digital public relations, corporate and brand communications, crisis communications, brand and market communications domains.

In the past, Akanksha has successfully planned and executed public relations/brands campaigns across India and over 30 other countries. She is a start-up specialist and has extensive experience of working with emerging brands. She has been associated with brands like Pine Labs, MobiKwik, VLCC and Power2SME and spearheaded their PR/brand/communication campaigns.

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