Learn How To Say No At Work

Warren Buffett

The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.Warren Buffett

We all want to say no more often. We know how important it is, but we struggle with it. We end up saying yes to everything.

Why is that?

There’s a lot of psychology involved, a lot of perception issues, and conflicting advice on what to do to achieve success.

On the one hand, we all want to be promoted or be viewed as amazing employees by our bosses and colleagues, so we’ll take on more work and more responsibility. We’ll ask for it.

On the other hand, we want to have a good work-life balance, we want to be seen as “team players”, and we want to be liked.

So much of why we constantly say yes is rooted in fear.

Fear we’ll lose our jobs, lose our value to the team, or be disliked by our team.

For me, the biggest fear is the fear of rejection. I think that every time I say no to someone, it’s another opportunity for them to dislike me or think I’m rude.

These are deeply rooted insecurities that are making me so afraid of having anyone think anything negative about me.

At the end of the day, I just want to be liked.

I know the value of saying no (I’ve done all the research), but I keep saying yes. I want to be “popular” at work.

That psychological feeling of being valued and having someone say “I don’t know what I would do without you” is too much of an urge for me to say no.

Adam Grant

When you develop a reputation for being responsive and generous, an ever-expanding mountain of requests will come your way.Adam Grant

This quote by Adam Grant rings true to me.

I feel like I’ve become a “go-to” person for requests and because I normally answer so quickly, it creates this sense of needing to always be “on”.

The Psychology Of Why We Say Yes

Before we look at tips on how at say no better, I think it’s important for you to understand why we have so much trouble saying no in the first place.

It turns out, I’m not alone in saying yes to everything so I’ll be more liked.

In social psychology, the need to be socially accepted is incredibly strong.

We’re all intrinsically motivated to belong to a group. This need to belong can even lead us to change our beliefs or attitudes just to fit in.

We do whatever it takes to be socially accepted by that group, so saying no to a coworker or boss goes against that intrinsic need.

Another interesting reason why we say yes is due to what psychologists call the “harshness bias”, which is where we assume people judge us more negatively than they actually do.

We feel worse than we should for saying no to someone.

In fact, what we often fail to realize is that people respect the confidence and adherence to work-life balance from when we say no.

Our brains also don’t enjoy the stress that comes from having to say no to someone.

According to the book Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much, the busier we get, the more likely it is that we will have a harder time saying no to the next request.

This is because just saying yes is easier and more habitual for us, and when you’re tired or stressed, you don’t have the energy to say no.

Women Have A Harder Time Saying No

Interestingly, women may have a harder time saying no to requests for help, according to one study[0. http://www.siop.org/article_view.aspx?article=1336].

From the study:

“Women who did say “no” fared worse in performance evaluations, received fewer recommendations for promotions, and were considered less likable.”

Women are usually known for being more nurturing and helping, so when they say no to helping someone, it’s perceived worse than if a man were to say no.

Similarly, in the book Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg writes:

“When a woman declines to help a colleague, she often receives less favorable reviews and fewer rewards. But a man who declines to help? He pays no penalty.”

Tips To Make Saying No Easier

Before we go through a few tips to make saying no easier, here is a TEDx talk on the art of saying no:

The key at the end of the day is to stand your ground.

Be strong, and know that saying no won’t hurt your image. You need to be confident, and learn to know when to say yes and when to say no.

Remember that every time you say yes, you’re also saying no to something else.

Saying no at work is a difficult thing to do no doubt, but it’s important to keeping yourself healthy, happy, and productive.

As long as you’re not rude about it, saying no is perfectly okay.

Remember to always take care of yourself (work-life balance, getting your own work done) before helping someone else with their work.

The analogy I always use: On an airplane, in the event of a crash, they say to put your own mask on before helping anyone else.
  1. Block Off Time In Your Calendar

    A surprisingly good tip to saying no is to actually block off time in your calendar to make your reason for saying no more concrete.

    It can be as simple as blocking off “dinner at home” from 6-7 in your calendar.

    What this does is when someone asks you to stay a little late, instead of saying “no I don’t feel like it”, you can say “No, I can’t. I have dinner at 6 that I have to go to”.

    This makes you sound more secure about the no.

  2. Visualize The Future

    As humans, we tend to go for immediate gratification rather than delayed. This means that we think short term, so we often don’t see the impact of saying yes right away.

    Before you say yes, if you can visualize the future of how annoying it will be to have to stay late and that feeling of getting home and eating dinner late, you’ll be better able to say no.

  3. Set Expectations Early On

    It’s perfectly okay to set boundaries and rules for yourself to avoid becoming overworked.

    For example, if you clearly say to your team that weekends and evenings you’re not available, then saying no will be easier.

    Your team will know when they’re able to come to you with requests for help.

  4. Dig Deeper Into The Request

    Before blindly saying no, maybe by asking a few more questions and digging deeper, you can say no while still helping.

    • Could this wait?
    • Is it urgent?
    • Is there anyone else that could help?
  5. Practice Saying No

    For example, if you know you have a dinner the night of and you’re hoping your boss doesn’t ask you to stay late, but they do (obviously), then rehearsing yourself saying no will help you say it with more conviction.

  6. Accept That You Might Have To Say Yes

    One strategy to saying no is to talk about another commitment you made.

    For example: “I wish I could, but I’m already working on the big marketing project”.

    Your boss could easily say to you “Let’s put that marketing project on hold for now, we really need you on this sales project”.

    While you tried to say no, if your boss ultimately wants you on something, just accept that you might have to end up saying yes.

  7. Don’t Be Scared Of The Word “No”

    There’s no need to be awkward about saying no to someone. Sometimes you’ll see people say “Gee, I don’t know, I’d love to, but I feel like…”

    Stop doing that.

    Be strong when you’re saying no to someone or something and don’t think twice about it. If you think you should say no, then just do it.

Finally, remember that you’re always in control of your own life. By saying yes to too many things, you might be compromising your health, happiness, or relationships.

In the book Before Happiness, Shawn Achor explains how you can focus on what you want:

While the human brain receives 11 million pieces of information every second from our environment, it can process only 40 bits a second, which means it has to choose what tiny percentage of this input to process and attend to, and what huge chunk to dismiss or ignore. Thus, your reality is a choice; what you choose to focus on shapes how you perceive and interpret your world.

Do You have Issues Saying No?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

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