Why You Should Say “No” at Work


Sometimes saying “yes” can open up new doors and new opportunities, it can get you on new projects with new experiences. Saying yes isn’t always the right thing to do, but so many professionals find it extremely difficult to say no, even when saying no is the best answer. Saying yes too often can lead to burnout, fatigue, a sense of a lack of control or agency, frustration and ultimately leaving your job.

Executive coach Nicole Provonchee recently framed the yes or no dichotomy in an interesting way by saying “the next time you are presented with a “new opportunity” or any other request of your time, ask yourself this important question: When I say YES to this, what am I saying NO to?” This tool is a great way to remind yourself that your time is finite, and although you may not realize it when you say yes to something you are simultaneously saying no to other things in your life. Saying yes to this work project might mean saying no to self-care, not working after dinner, spending time with your family, a different project that is a better fit for your career goals, and more. Nicole explains that self-care is usually the thing that gets cut, even though our mental, emotional, and physical health may depend on it.

Saying no doesn’t have to be awkward or offensive, you can professionally and respectfully say no. If you’re new to saying no, it may take some time to build up the skills and muscles to get used to it, but practice makes perfect! The Muse covered four ways to best say no to different people at work, read through their examples, and feel prepared for the next time you should say no. This podcast from Harvard Business Review with author Bruce Tuglan outlines strategies for declining work through which you won’t add value — and for delivering the right kind of “yes.” By planning and practicing the best ways to say no it will help make it easier to say no when faced with a challenging workplace situation.

In addition to working on the skill personally, consider how as an executive or people manager you can help defeat a culture of busyness, build healthy boundaries, and set an example for others in your company. There will be times when as professionals or companies we may get busy, but learning how to set and model boundaries will help prevent busy culture. All companies get busy. The trick is to keep that busyness from becoming a consistent and cultural problem. When busyness becomes the norm, it can become a corrosive issue impacting job satisfaction and turnover.