Just Say No

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In my experience, career development and personal development are often intertwined concepts. The more you develop who you are, the easier it can be to manage the perils of the career ladder, coworker craziness or supervisor insanity. If you feel confident, for instance, it can be easier to step up to the plate and ask for the lead on a new project or to ask for funding to pursue the latest and greatest certification exam/credential. But there is one personal skill that I’ve found invaluable in life which I believe translates equally well on the job – the ability to say no.


Now, saying no on your own time versus the company’s time can be radically different, no matter how similar the sentiment. The primary difference is that a no on company time must be couched in such a way that it will not offend or give the impression that a no right now means a no forever, or that a no won’t be translated into unwillingness, disinterest or the quintessential bad attitude.


In your personal life, a firm no is perfectly in order and doesn’t necessarily need any qualification. In fact, as I’ve aged, saying no has brought me great joy and satisfaction, and the realization that many of the experiences I regret would have been avoided had I had the proverbial balls to say no and stick to it. It’s your choice what you can and cannot accept on a job, whether that involves questionable behavior from those you work with, being passed up for promotion or a lack of challenge in current responsibilities. If your first instinct is to say no, that may be the right one. But before you voice the no, think.


Evaluate why you want to reject whatever it is. Evaluate how your no could be perceived by the powers that be. Evaluate how you want to express that no, and then evaluate if that no is truly in your best interests. Evaluate doesn’t mean dissect the situation over a series of sessions with the therapist, though if you have the time and resources, not to mention a good shrink, by all means go for it. Evaluation can be as quick as a mental game of pros and cons, where the winner is the column with the most content. Evaluation should lead to understanding.


For instance, I understand that a well-placed, well-voiced no can ward off a chain of negative events, just as an ill-timed yes can attach you to a series of tasks or responsibilities that you may not have any time or liking for. Similarly, a poorly delivered no can create a chain of badness that will cause that one solitary word to reverberate like echoes of doom from a movie score. So, think before you speak. Whether you’re saying yes or no, believe in what you say, and be prepared to defend those beliefs to the boss. He who pays your salary has a right to demand an explanation, just as you as a human being on planet Earth have the right to say no.

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