We all have learned (or at least heard) that being a “yes person” positively contributes to our mental attitude and social interactions for it makes us more open to opportunities and opinions. However, when you take this behavior too far, you risk becoming a people-pleaser, which could easily be detrimental for your personal and professional life.
Saying “no” to requests and offers makes us feel uneasy: we think that because of our refusal we’ll be branded for life and this may cost us career growth opportunities. Well, it’s not (always) the case and, in general, it’s a risk worth taking. Being agreeable is an important part of being a team player, and being recognized as a team player can benefit you in many ways. However, in your job, being assertive is also an appreciated quality, especially if you’re aiming at growing in your career. An assertive person is considered more capable of handling responsibilities independently and acting as a leader. Learning to say “no” is an important part of asserting yourself and it will help you strengthening your image in the eyes of coworkers and employers, who’ll likely show you more respect.
Saying “no” allows you to set healthy boundaries, identify priorities, and evaluate the responsibilities you’re willing to accept. By saying “no”, you show you’re thoughtful and realistic when it comes to workload and time management: this is a quality that your superiors would notice. In addition, if you always say “yes”, you’ll come across as one who tends to avoid conflicts at all costs. When you say “no”, on the other hand, you decide to fight for something you care about, hence you train yourself to handle conflicts and negotiations: this is fundamental for your development into a more well-rounded and mature professional.
For overcoming the fear that saying “no” may jeopardize your career, you should keep in mind that a “no” doesn’t necessarily shut a door or stop an opportunity. “No’s” can open new doors and prompt a change in direction. In fact, saying “no” is saying “yes” to something else. Yes and no are the two sides of the same coin. Both can open as well as close doors. Don’t imagine your career as a straight and narrow path where, if you say “no” to something, you get stalled. Imagine your career as a path with side roads, many of which can be explored only if you make a decision and make a turn, and this sometimes requires you to say “no”.
Lastly, even if saying “no” may jeopardize your opportunity of growth in the immediate future, it will pay off in the long run. If you say “yes” to everything that is thrown at you, you can blur boundaries. You can spread yourself too thin and end up exhausted. And wouldn’t that be a more serious hindrance to your professional growth?
So, learn how to say no in a way that makes you look poised and not dismissive. Be firm though polite, offer brief reasons as to why and useful solutions that may help make up for your refusal. And most importantly, before answering “no”, take your time think about your response strategically, and assess benefits and costs that it may bring you.
This article was written by Alex Cherici.
Alex Cherici is a PhD candidate in Chinese Linguistics at Indiana University. She’s currently writing her dissertation and teaching undergraduate courses. Before resuming her academic studies, she has worked as a language teacher and school manager for eight years.