How to Say No at Work

Are you a yes person? I’m definitely a yes person. With a deep-rooted fear of missing out, I’m constantly agreeing to things. Whether that is taking on an extra task at work or agreeing to do 4001 things with my family, I’m always in. I noticed, moving into this new year, it was time to change that. It was time [it’s 2020, y’all] to learn how to say no to a few things.

How to say NO when you could say YES

Saying no is hard. That is why we feel bad doing it. However, saying no opens us up to a whole new range of responses and truly gives us time to set priorities. First, figure out what is important to you. What is going to drive you forward this year? What is going to change your life? Make it better? Move the needle for your business or your career? Having those answers is great. I’m sitting here now without the answers; however, I know to grow – saying no is going to be essential.

Taking on so many responsibilities is not a badge of honor, it is a disservice to your coworkers. There’s only so much time in a day – learning to say, “I can’t get to that” is essential for growth. I’m terrible at this – I will take on things all day long because of the aforementioned FOMO and also I don’t want to let anyone down. However, I found myself letting people down constantly because I couldn’t get to everything at once.

Okay fine. But how do I do this?

Prioritize. Set goals. What is it going to take you to get you there? Is it managing your time better? Do you want to spend more effort writing, reaching out to clients or developing a new product? Do it – but make the space to allow for it. I’m going to say this again because I think it is worth mentioning twice. Being “super busy” isn’t something to be proud of, it means you’re managing your time poorly and taking on too many things that could either be dropped or delegated.

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Drop Unimportant Tasks and Meetings. Do you need to have that meeting to get things done or could it be solved with a quick Slack message? Is posting on Instagram 12 times a day helping your company? If not, drop it. Or delegate to someone that may have the bandwidth to support you. You know what matters and what will produce positive results for the company or for your role.

Delegate. You may not have time to get it all done or you may know a teammate who could do something better than you. Delegate it. Hand it off. Give up some control. It will be okay. I repeat these things to myself constantly. Delegation is key to a smooth working team and will be done better by someone who has an opportunity to devote the time to it.

Say No To Bad Ideas. Not all ideas are good ones and they shouldn’t be. If you’re in a great culture at work – throwing out all ideas should be welcomed and celebrated. But they’re not all gems. Filter out the bad ones, say no to someone, it enables them to get more creative and dare I say it, more innovative? Don’t just say no and walk away, offer solutions or other ideas that may help spark ingenuity or at the very least start a dialogue.

Ways to Say No

There are so many situations at work and in life where saying no can be helpful and even appreciated.

  • Saying No to Clients: this is a huge one. Being able to set clear boundaries with a client is important. Working in innovation, we have to filter through ideas constantly to find the one that is going to really transform a client’s business. We’re always striving to find the best opportunities for our clients and occasionally that means scrapping some ideas to allow us to really transform the business.
  • Saying No to Team Members: don’t just say no and walk away. Say no and come up with another solution. Delegate the task. Give them a time frame for when you can complete the ask. Help them move forward.
  • Saying No to Your Manager (or boss): what, I can’t do that? Sure, you can. Your boss is a human. You will be just fine. Managers should be told no when needed, but again also offered a solution. “Hey, that seems low priority – I can’t get to it today, but I can by Friday.” All good things. You will not get fired or passed over for saying no to something that can wait.
  • Saying No to Friends or Family: this is where you can practice! I’m personally really bad at this one and this should be the easiest! Although, when a friend cancels dinner I do a little happy dance and throw on my sweatpants. Introverts unite! Telling a friend or family member No should be painless and will help you get comfortable doing it at work.
After all of this, how is this innovative?

I mentioned this above – but the ability to say no creates opportunities for innovation. How you ask? By allowing for greater collaboration, finding new ways to do things and finally, landing on the best and most efficient way to tackle a problem. Now, go off and practice. You’ve got this.

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