How to Say No
Young people and entry level workers are often taught that the secret to career success is simple: Just do everything you possibly can to impress and please your employer. All day, every day. When your boss says jump, jump. If you do this consistently and eagerly every single time, you'll jump your way up the career ladder like a salmon jumping up a waterfall.
And at the very earliest stages of the entry level, there's some truth to this advice. When you don't have a track record of accomplishments and you can only move forward using the power of your smile, your future potential, and your can-do attitude, saying yes to every request can certainly help you. But in a very short time (usually within a year or two), the power of your smile begins to fade. And jumping eagerly through hoops as your boss snaps his fingers can actually hold you back.
First, this sends the wrong message by suggesting that you don't have the backbone to control your own destiny. Second, it allows the person giving the order to direct and shape and course of your career. And third, it sets you up for a steep climb in the future. As it turns out, saying no can be very difficult…sometimes far more difficult than saying yes. And the sooner you master this challenging skill, the easier your career climb will become. Try these tips:
1. Check the calendar.
Is it time to start honing your no-saying skills? If you've been working in your industry for a few years and you've built a solid resume, the answer is probably yes. If you're starting to feel trapped, uncomfortable, or taken advantage of when your boss or coworkers ask you to extend yourself, it's yes. And if you've come to assume that every request is actually a command and you have "no choice" but to comply, it's definitely time to start making some changes.
The first time you say no will probably feel unnatural, and maybe even a little scary. But the second time will be easier. And once you recognize that saying no does not, in fact, get you fired, it becomes easier still. (You may notice that saying no can actually increase—not diminish– the respect that comes your way.) Start small, and choose situations in which right is clearly on your side. For example, say no the next time you're asked to dedicate time and effort to your employer without getting paid.
3. Be polite.
Choose your words carefully as you decline a request or a command. Instead of simply saying "No" and walking away, try something like: "I'd rather not," "I'm afraid I can't do that", or "My plate is already full. I'd rather not make a promise or agree to a commitment I can't keep." If you need to, you can preface your declination with a simple apology, as in: "I'm sorry, but you'll have to ask someone else." (If you choose this route, remember that the word "sorry" carries its own weight and can form a different kind of threat to your career progress.)
4. But not passive aggressive.
When you say no, choose any words you like, but be clear. Never suggest that you'll do something and then fail to follow through. Watch out for weak, passive aggressive refusals like "I guess I can look into it", "I'll see what I can do", or "I'll try." In an employer's ears, all of these mean yes.
Don't Stand Still and Wait For Approval
Visit MyPerfectResume for more tips on how to stay in control of your career, and when the time comes, use the resume-building tools on the site to make your next move.