Why You Need to Add “No” to Your Work Vocabulary

Posted by Cathy Reilly

iStock-Yes.No signs wcredit.jpg The word “No” is one of the most powerful of words, yet one of the hardest to say. That’s because no one wants to hear it. People would rather say and hear “Yes”. The pressure to say “Yes” starts early. Children are expected to say “Yes” to people in authority. Children want to say “Yes” to parents, coaches and teachers. We are instinctively eager to please.

The Stress of Yes

Saying “Yes” can be easier in the short term, simply because it is the response of least resistance. But in the long run, it can make things harder. All of us have experienced the stress of “Yes”. Too many “Yes’s” and the tasks pile up, frustration mounts, resentment builds, and relationships suffer. Lauren Mackler, life, relationship and career coach, and author of Solemate: Master the Art of Aloneness & Transform Your Life, notes that while we often say “Yes” to preserve a relationship with a boss, spouse, or friend, an unwilling “Yes” actually has the opposite effect. “Not communicating your needs weakens the relationship.”

The Power of NO

One develops muscular strength by pushing against something – resistance. In the same way, a person develops a strong sense of self by exercising resistance when it’s needed. Saying “No” is one way to do that. “No” is a word of resistance. We can become stronger just by saying it and getting good at it. In this way “No” becomes a more familiar and less negative word to us. “No” can be a positive word because it helps us set boundaries, and stick to our convictions, values and beliefs. “Don’t think of [saying “No”] as being selfish but about taking care of you,” says Mackler.

While saying “No” is self-empowering, it can also help to strengthen work relationships, even with a boss. HR professionals are especially mindful of the “human” aspect at work. They understand the importance of encouraging overwhelmed or frustrated employees and can provide support by helping them develop their “No” muscle” instead of defaulting to “Yes” for everything. Employees need to know it’s OK to take care of themselves on the job and that they have a voice, while still being a team player with a positive attitude.

When they are encouraged to say “No”, employees can also empower a business.
Continual “Yes” compliance on the other hand, does not leave room for employees to take initiative, innovate and contribute towards improved solutions or methodologies. Employees who feel stifled at every step of the way can quickly become disengaged and unmotivated. Who is going to offer new ideas when they feel they are there to be compliant at all costs?

Ways to Say “No”

Of course, employees must be discerning enough and have confidence to know when “Yes” or “No” is the better response. Saying “No” in a positive way can lead to dialogue with the boss and exploring new possibilities.  It is resistance through offering options. There are effective ways to say “No” vs. just saying the word “No” and letting it land square on the boss’s ears (yikes!). That’s not the way this goes.

For example: Chris is given a new project by his boss, which will put him at full tilt with his overflowing full work load. This project will not only negatively impact his ability to get all his work done, it will greatly impact the quality of his work. How does he say “No” to his boss without looking like he’s not willing to help or do whatever the boss needs? And, his boss is not only an authority figure, he’s got a lot to say about Chris’s compensation and career. This is not your problem to solve alone”, says negotiation expert Sheila Heen: “Say to your boss, ‘I would love to do it, but I’m not sure I can add this while still giving my other projects the attention they deserve. I would appreciate your thoughts on how to prioritize.’ That way, allotting your time becomes a mutual concern and decision. 5 Times It’s Hard to Say No (And How to Do It Anyway).

In another scenario, Morgan’s manager has just given her a new responsibility for the entire department. With many current projects already underway, and the daily to-do’s she handles, Morgan can’t even imagine how she’ll manage this. She decides to say “No”, by having an on-the-spot conversation with her manager. (Note: “on-the-spot”, not days later after griping and stressing endlessly about it). Morgan suggests that she’d like to enlist the help of a couple of junior department employees for certain aspects of this new responsibility. This would give them some experience to strengthen their skills, and greater exposure to others in the department. It will also provide Morgan the help she needs to do this task justice. The boss likes the idea and agrees. He is pleased to see her take initiative and think bigger. Morgan is happy because with the extra help, she can manage this task and do a stellar job at it. She is also happy that she has taken care of herself through the process. The junior employees are excited to work at a new level for the department and learn more. It’s a win for all.

Through the various forms that an effective “No” can take in the workplace, new possibilities can reveal themselves, work relationships can be expanded and ultimately strengthen the fiber and culture of a business.

How comfortable are your employees about saying “No” in your workplace and how might your company benefit when they do?


Topics: Human Resources

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