Why are we so afraid of saying “no” in the workplace?

From an early age we learn that “NO” comes with consequences and that it’s really tough being told “no” to the things we want. So, it’s no wonder that as adults, so many of us struggle with saying “no”.

When we start our career or any new endeavor, we often say yes to everything just so that we can get in the game, and this stays with us because we place ourselves as someone who gets things done, can be relied on, or the “go to guy/gal”.

Many of my clients tend to be high achievers and many of them say yes to almost everything.  This can be caused by the fear of people thinking they’re weak, can’t cope, are incapable or worry that if they say “no” they’ll be bypassed for any opportunities or promotions in the future. 

Sometimes they simply just don’t want to let people down and want to be of service and help, even if they are already overwhelmed and stressed with their current workload.

In my experience, a key reason comes from a lack of clarity on what actions are important to move them forward.  They are afraid of missing an opportunity therefore they say “yes” to everything.  I work with my clients on seeking clarity around the direction they need to go in so they can focus and also build the courage to saying “no” more often to the things that won’t serve them well.

So, why can saying “yes” in this context often be a mistake?

It’s so common to hear my clients saying that their workload and commitments are causing them burnout, stress and overwhelm. Now, saying “yes” to a lot of things when you are just starting out, maybe some new opportunities as an entrepreneur or in your career, might help to get you recognized and in the game. But, as you get more established, more busy and achieve more, there’s a massive downside to this behavior.

By becoming the “yes” man/woman that everyone can just throw their agenda onto, inviting manipulators who want to use you for their own gain, you’ll end up with so many distractions that you’ll miss important deadlines and be held back from the important things that could move you forward and the quality of your work will suffer.  Simply, you won’t be able to produce your best work due to being stretched too thin.

The overwhelm and stress of attending to everyone else’s agenda will creep over into all areas of your life.  You’ll end up having less energy for the thing you were doing a good job on and you experience fatigue and burn out in multiple areas of your life. And the frightening thing is, by saying “yes” to everything you are communicating the complete opposite to everyone around you, they simply won’t know that you’re overworked, and this can have a serious effect on your wellbeing. 

I’ve witnessed situations when people end up stuck in a role that no-one wants to promote them from, just because they can be relied upon to take care of everything.

If you don’t set boundaries or expectations, you will start to resent the people around you. 

Saying “yes” to everything often seems like the best way to keep getting ahead but it really reduces the focus, discipline, learning and mastery of your own path. It causes so much distraction, not only in your current work but in your life and it can stop you from adding the real value you are capable of.  I work with individuals on their clarity, energy, courage and productivity so that they remove their distractions and focus on the things that will serve them on their path to success.

So, what is the best way to say “no”? ………

In my opinion, the best way to say “no”, is to say “no”. I was taught, early in life, by my greatest mentor and idol, that the word “no” is the most important and best word you can learn to use. This is great, but we all know that not everyone receives or accepts a “no” as just a word. It is often met with feelings of rejection, disregard and frustration.

If we’re not clear on what is important to us or the other person, we’re not responding from a place of know, therefore, you need to listen and demonstrate empathy and understanding of the requester’s urgency and priorities.  Now, assuming that what they have to offer is NOT aligned with our path and goals, we respectfully, calmly and quite firmly explain to them that it has to be a “no”. 

This “no” should first be delivered by showing gratitude by saying things like, “that sounds really interesting”, “I’d love to get involved in something like that”, “I appreciate you considering me for this” or “thank you for thinking of me” and then followed and supported by facts such as “My calendar is already full”, “I have x project which is a high priority for delivery”, “unless it can wait until x-date”, “If I were to take this on, x-project delivery will be at risk”, etc.

This demonstrates that you’ve have heard and appreciate their request and also given them valid reasons why you couldn’t help next time.  You could them go on to help them by,

When High Performers get clear on their direction, they don’t feel any need for apology or to make endless excuses for why they’re saying no. Surprisingly, to many of my clients, when they deliver this “no” in the right way, this is more often met with appreciation and respect from management and clients.

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