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The Art Of Saying ‘No’ For A More Fruitful Career And Happier Life

We may find it the hardest to say ‘No’ to a lot of things—to your mother-in-law who has invited you for a sewing sesh even though you have no interest whatsoever in that hobby, to your hubby who invites you to a movie date night when you couldn’t care less about that local chick flick film, or to a career or work opportunity that’s been tugging at your sleeves but it’s just going to hurt you no matter what.


READ: Mr. Manners: The Art Of Saying "No"


When it comes to career choices and accepting work opportunities, there’s always a good rule of thumb to knowing when you should say ‘No.’ When you know that it’s going to hurt your brand or your soul, no matter if it makes you feel terrible turning down an offer, learn to say ‘No.’


Your time is finite

There are only 24 hours a day and seven days in a week. You can only commit so much of those hours to work if you want to live a balanced and healthy life. You may want to do so many things and get on board so many projects, but if you don’t have the time to commit to all of those things, you may just be half-assing everything instead of giving it your 100 percent.


READ: Overtime Can Kill you. Really.


Never sacrifice quality just to get more things done—whether in the variety of roles and responsibilities you choose to take, or in the amount of workload you choose to carry. If your editor thinks you can do those extra articles for submission for the day, stop and weigh first the consequences of taking those on. If your boss wants to give you more work, double check your official list of responsibilities before nodding your head.

Ask these questions, too: Will the quality of your work suffer? Will your sleep suffer? Will your personal life suffer? While working and showing off to your boss can feel like a priority when you’re starting out in your career, there’s no reason to let other aspects of your life suffer just because you couldn’t get the courage to say ‘No.’

In fact, Eileen Carey, CEO of peer mentoring firm Glassbreakers, said that saying ‘No’ to responsibilities that shouldn’t be on your desk could earn you respect in the long run. She says, “It's important to say no at work because it earns you respect. If you aren't getting paid to do something and the task will take away time from accomplishing what you are paid to do, saying no demonstrates your commitment to your role and the value of your time.”


Know your long-term goals

Short-term goals are easy to make, follow, and achieve. Maybe you just want to get through this hectic month, or get your boss to trust you with your decisions, or get a pay raise. But we can be easily lost in instant gratifications like these, and lose track of our long-term goals. Where do you see yourself five to ten years from now, and what are you doing to get into that path?

The secret is to identify your long-term goals, outline the short-term goals that will build up to that long-term goal, and stick to it. If something comes up that doesn’t align with those goals, why waste time?

Johanna Lanus, CEO and founder of Work With Balance, believes that this kind of organization and foresight has enabled her to prioritize and sort opportunities that come to her table so she makes use of her time productively. In fact, she even suggests to just go ahead and directly say ‘No’ when these unwanted opportunities crop up.

“I keep a list of long-term and short-term priorities and if a task or project doesn’t fit in one of those buckets, 99% of the time I decline it. My best tip for saying no is to be straightforward and not dance around the subject. Explain that the task, project or activity doesn’t align with your current priorities and, if the situation changes, you will revisit the topic. Also, sometimes you can suggest an alternative solution. Remember, everyone has to say no at some point, so the person will respect your candor,” she says.

But if you’re uncomfortable with directly saying ‘No,’ for example, to a job offer that you think just might not suit you, you can also follow former US President Barrack Obama’s little trick.

According to PayPal CEO Dan Schulman, Obama was offered to be interviewed for a job at the prestigious Joyce Foundation in Chicago when he lost the race for Congress in 2000. That time, it would have paid him a handsome six-figures with many club membership perks.

Before Obama rose to become a Senator in 2004, and then president in 2009, he had a turbulent political career. If he chose to take on the Joyce Foundation opportunity, that would have brought him to another world altogether and allow him to make a fresh start.

But Obama knew that he was not done with politics and he wanted to achieve greater and bigger things for America. So he admitted to doing a bad job during the interview so he wouldn’t be picked for it.

In the end, it’s all about knowing your core instincts, knowing your goals, and sticking to that no matter what.


Gently say ‘No’

When you’ve made clear of your priorities and drew the line on what corresponds a ‘Yes’ and a ‘No,’ then let’s go to how you can break it to them gently. Whether it’s your officemate, your boss, or your client, there’s always a better way of saying ‘No’ without actually saying it to their face.

First, you start with the reason for your refusal. If you believe the additional work will interfere with your current work and learning process, be straightforward and say exactly that. If you think you won’t have the time to do their request, be honest and say that there really is just no opening for a new project. If it’s your boss or a co-worker, you can also be candid about it and outline the projects and tasks you currently have on hand, and ask which of those would they be comfortable being delayed if you decide to take on the additional task.

Rejecting a task or an offer doesn’t have to make you the only bad guy, either. You can be a resource to the requester and lead them to other resources for their problem. Some projects feel like they would eat too much time and resources so you can suggest an alternative route or idea for them to feel like they can accomplish it without your help. If it’s a client, you can always suggest other suppliers or brands that they can approach that is more in line with what they need.

Lastly, there’s always an option to extend a helping hand without having to take on the entire task. When an officemate is asking to load a big task on you, instead of taking it on, offer a joint or limited commitment on it instead. Start off with an “I’m afraid I won’t have the time to do this, but I could help you with…” Offer to help with a part of the project without having to sacrifice all your time into taking on its entirety. In fact, working on it together and asking more people to help might just be the key to accomplishing the task easier.