Every NO to someone is a YES to yourself! 

Saying NO at work 🙅🏻 is an art that you are not alone in finding it difficult to master but that can be a life-changing talent! Let’s explore together the why, the when and the how of saying NO…


First I would like to start by sharing the story of my first NO at work that I believe had a determinant impact on my life…At that time I was 23, starting my career as a bid manager in a french telecommunications company in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. In this first meeting, my role was to lead cross-functional stakeholders toward agreeing on an offer strategy. Quite a stressful responsibility 😵‍💫 for a first meeting! Before starting, one of the attendees – an experienced Product Manager – asked me in front of everyone if I could get him a printed version of the slide deck…😨 SILENCE in the room😨…

Today I still ignore how I managed not to respond ‘’Yes of course’’ – 💪🏻 courage, madness 💪🏻…I don’t know but I responded very tactfully that the deck was in everyone’s inbox, if he wanted a printed version he could do it easily…

This NO 🙅🏽‍♂️ changed everything…

👉It changed the way I thought about myself: it gave me the strength and confidence to run this meeting, to take on this challenge and many more afterwards!! 

👉It also changed the way my colleagues thought about me: I had not been hired to print documents and bring coffees, I was going to be treated as equally as my other colleagues

In the end, I stayed two years in this role; it was very intense but the strong collaboration we built made it worth it. 


Saying NO can be beneficial – some would even say vital! Why?

Here are the reasons:  

💡It benefits your confidence, your performance and ultimately your career. Saying NO helps you express your values, your priorities that align with your personal and professional goals and take actions towards them vs. getting lost in every direction. You optimise your workload and those of your team. You stay on track and feel more confident and assertive. 


💡It positions yourself in the organisation and drives respect…Your manager, your peers, your team members and stakeholders will see you as someone authentic, confident and assertive who can set boundaries and voice up when relevant. You will also avoid being at the mercy of everyone’s requests and the victim of abusive collaborators. 


💡It protects your wellbeing! Your time and energy are precious resources that you must use wisely. Exhaustion from long hours, stress generated by extra work can lead to burnout. Again practising self care should be your priority!  


Thus while in theory we all (now) understand why saying NO is so critical, saying it for real can still be overwhelming 😨! Indeed whatever the job, the seniority and the size of their organisations, most people do struggle to say NO to their boss, their clients, and their stakeholders…This is one of the most common wellbeing hindrances shared with me by clients, prospects and friends…and why I wanted to write about it today. 


But then why is it so challenging to say NO at work? 

Beyond simply not knowing how to, there are some deep considerations explaining why we struggle with saying NO:  

💡Because we feel pressured by the organisation: to always do more, to be a good team player, a high-achiever, someone who goes above and beyond (you don’t know how much I can’t stand this expression anymore!)…this is what the organisation expects from us, what everyone does…


💡Because we feel pressured by ourselves! We see saying yes as a career opportunity and a way to get promoted! We Fear-Of-Missing-Out! We may also want to prove ourselves that we can actually do the job – re-insuring our uncertain selves. 


💡Because we are social animals and people-pleasers! We have a strong need to belong and saying yes makes us feel socially included. We want to please our boss, our clients, and our colleagues so they think great things about us. We probably also do not like to say NO because of the way we have been raised where saying NO was considered as bad. We fear and feel guilt of hurting our interlocutors, disappointing them, creating conflict or losing their interests. 


Bottom line, it takes courage 💪🏻 to dare to say NO! But hold on – careful here! The goal of this article is not to encourage you to say NO to everything everytime!! Being able to assess when it is relevant and appropriate to say NO is as important as learning how to say NO! 


When to say NO…?

Once you have gathered all the information about the request (importance, duration, size,…) and self-checked that:

You are already overloaded and don’t have the energy or the time to take on more

The request is beyond or above your R&R and you do not wish to stretch or reduce yourself (and this is OK!) 

The request is not in line with your long-term personal and professional goals and values. To do so you need a good sense of what they are! 

The request goes against ethics, or laws….in this case you may want to wonder if you should not simply quit…

Now that we understand better why saying NO at work is vital but so challenging and when to do so, let me give you here 3 simple steps to master this art…


How to say NO…?

In a tactful and kind way…

1️⃣ Step 1 THANK YOU!

🙏🏼Express your gratitude for being asked to perform this task. It will sooth your interlocutors, showing you appreciate and care about them. No need to apologise, you have nothing to feel bad about knowing your priorities and boundaries. You may also ask your interlocutor for some time before getting back to them to assess the request deeper. 

2️⃣ Step 2 NO BECAUSE + an honest and simple reason!

’’I already have a lot on my plate. I could not do a good job on your project and the rest of my work would suffer.’’ It can be a great opportunity to show to your manager your actual workload , the roadblocks you are facing and where you may need support! ‘’I have a family event to attend on Saturday morning and can not come back to the office at that time’’. It is the occasion to reaffirm your boundaries with your stakeholders. 

3️⃣ Step 3 NO BUT + an alternative solution!

I love the NO BUT response (problem solvers will also do!). This is the positive NO! Instead of leaving your interlocutor ‘down’, look for alternative solutions WITH them 🙌🏼. For example you could offer to re-prioritise your activities, suggest other more relevant or available colleagues, take a smaller responsibility in their project… and even tactfully challenge the criticality of the request. 


To conclude this article about the art of saying NO here are some of my favourite quotes about NO! 

“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.” – Warren Buffet

“What you don’t do determines what you can do.” Tim Ferriss

“The art of leadership is saying no, not saying yes. It is very easy to say yes.” Tony Blair 

“Focusing is about saying no.”  Steve Jobs


Don’t forget Say NO and take care! 


Take care 


Follow me on linked in (https://www.linkedin.com/in/augautier/) and instagram (https://www.instagram.com/wellbeingyourpotential/)


#wellbeing #wellbeingatwork #bienetreautravail #bienetre

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