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3 Times When It's Ok To Say No At Work

Nobody wants to be the person who always says “no.”

Whether you’re a new employee or a business owner, you want to please your colleagues and customers. People don’t like being denied, and it’s no fun being the one to deny them, as you will often end up on the receiving end of their frustration.

And let’s face it, other people can be pretty persuasive in their pitches, so that saying no feels wrong. They’ll make it seem like their requests are totally reasonable—and they might be, but compounded on other demands being made of you, it can be too much for one person to handle.


But the hard truth is that sometimes you have to say no. You will not always have the time or the resources to meet every demand made of you. This is different from refusing to do something simply because you don’t want to. You should always strive to go the extra mile for your clients and colleagues—but not at the cost of your personal health and productivity.

In fact, experts argue that being the “go-to” person who always says yes can actually hinder your chances of advancement. People will see you as a doer, not a leader.

The key is knowing when to say no.

1. You’ve reached your limit, personal or resource-wise.

Sometimes, you have simply given all you can give, be that time, energy, or cost. If you feel like doing any more with break you, it’s time to say no.


For example, if your boss gives you more tasks than you can complete in one week, the end result will be either incomplete work or work done poorly to meet a deadline. This will negatively affect your credibility, and will probably make you feel low because you did worse than you’re capable of. It never feels good to hand in sub-par work.

In this situation, it’s best to tell your boss frankly but politely that you are unable to take on any more tasks. Let them know that you want to deliver work that is of a high quality, but to do that you will need less auxiliary tasks distracting you. If extending the deadline for your other tasks is not possible, then you can offer to help your boss find someone else to take them on.


Your body may also feel the taxing effects of juggling too many things at once. When your health is at risk, you can’t afford to continue at the same pace. Most people will understand you saying no if it’s for the sake of your health.

Another example: say you have a customer who is making unreasonable demands of you. They may want you to deliver on things outside of what is normally deliverable through your product or services. Of course you want to provide the best customer service possible, but to a reasonable point. If you find that customer is taking too much of your time and attention away from your other customers and responsibilities, you have to draw the line at what you are able to offer them. Sometimes losing one customer to preserve your good relationship with the others is the best you can do.


2. You regret saying yes.

Have you ever agreed to take on a task for someone, only to wish you hadn’t afterwards? This could be because it went against your morals, or because you felt took too much time and energy to complete, or because it stopped you from being able to do something important to you.


It’s important that your work does not negatively on your feelings of well-being and happiness. Sure, we all have bad days at work. Sometimes we have to do things outside of our comfort zone. But the risks you take should leave you feeling accomplished for having taken that risk, not remorseful for what you lost in the process.

For example, your boss might ask you to stay late one day to work on a big project with a quickly approaching deadline. Sometimes we have to put in longer hours to hit work goals, and in a situation like that it’s good to take initiative and say yes.


But say your boss expects you to work late multiple times a week, when those weren’t the parameters originally set out for the position. Suddenly, your job is cutting into your personal time in ways you hadn’t anticipated and as a result, you’re missing out on things you were looking forward to. Your moral and feeling of appreciation for your job will go drop, and both your happiness and your job performance will suffer.

In a situation like that, as nerve-wracking as it can be, you need to set some boundaries for how accommodating you are willing to be. Explain to your boss in a calm and rational way that the unprecedented longer hour are affecting you negatively. Depending on what kind of person your boss is, they may or may not be understanding. If they treat your request for stricter boundaries as unreasonable or silly, that may be a red flag that the company isn’t the right fit for you.


3. You feel like you have no identity outside of your job.

Even if you’re a workaholic, you’re bound to have interests outside of your work. If you love your job and you find joy in devoting all of your time to it, then keep on doing you. But that level of devotion should come from a place of genuine enjoyment, and not from a sense of guilt for taking time from work for yourself. It’s important to have some manner of balance between work and downtime—for your health, sanity, and productivity (at home and at work).


You are a person, not a position. Your position may be a defining part of your identity, but that isn’t all there is to you. If you find yourself sacrificing all of the time you would devote to your hobbies, loved ones and personal improvement, you will likely grow to resent your job for taking those things away from you. You will end up with disappointment in both your work life and personal life, where you could otherwise be happy with both.

If you reach that point, it’s time to say no. Again, this comes to drawing boundaries. It may even mean saying no to a promotion that will require you to sacrifice more free time—because let’s face it, not everyone is Bill Gate. As much as you should strive for a successful career, if you don’t want your entire life to be your job, that’s a valid way to live. You don’t want to look back on your life when you’re older and wish that you had taken more time for the other aspects of your life while there still was time, right?


It’s not easy to say no, but sometimes it’s necessary. That’s perfectly ok. Not only will this be better for your own self-preservation, but it will also show other people that you value your time, and so should they. The ability to say no shows that you are confident in your ability to assess a situation and make decisions. Having the confidence to say no is an admirable trait.


Strive to be the kind of person who says yes often, and no when it’s necessary.

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