Why ‘no’ could be your magic word at work

  • Rose Kennedy
  • For the AJC
Updated Sept 14, 2017

As a child, you're told that please and thank you are the magic words. But at work, the magic word might be a simple no.

Never saying “no” at work can mean late hours, extra assignments, tighter deadlines, fewer resources or even moving three states away. Always saying yes can leave you overwhelmed and will inevitably undermine both your own success and that of your organization.

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Saying no will provide you with the time and energy to focus on the work that will move your career forward, according to Elana Lyn Gross, business owner and content strategist, in Forbes. So, why is this simple, one-syllable term so hard to pronounce? Saying “no” at work makes you feel guilty and uncomfortable. 

"You may think people will dislike you, think you are entitled or question whether you are a team player," Gross noted. "It seems paradoxical, but saying no strategically and respectfully can help your career."

Gross interviewed highly successful women and suggests saying no in these four situations: 

New assignments are one of the primary areas where an effective workplace "no" is key, according to Harvard Business Review. "Most of us say yes to requests and assignments without filtering them by what's urgent, let alone what's possible. We like saying yes to our superiors, but agreeing to do too many things leaves us overstressed and overworked. Being effective requires making tradeoffs."

Holly Weeks, author of Failure to Communicate considers a firm-but-polite no the middle ground between confrontation and saying yes when you don't want to. "We're worried about damaging the relationship. And whether you are conflict-averse or conflict-ready, your counterpart may not always handle hearing no the way you'd hoped."

Weeks offered these tips for improving your ability to say no: