You’re being asked to stay extra late to work on a project by your boss and you say, “Okay,” but probably want to scream, “NO!”  Your colleagues want you to join them for drinks after hours, and you don’t like to socialize with your co-workers, you just want to be a vegetable on the sofa, talking to no one until the morning. Sadly, you hear yourself saying, “Yes.”

Why is it so hard to say, “No?” When is it appropriate to say, “No?”

I think it’s pretty obvious why it’s hard.  We don’t want to disappoint.  We want to be the stand-up professional ready to take on more than is humanly possible.  We want the goods to come back to us.  (YOU: “Oh, he’ll remember when I said yes to working until midnight and I’ll be the first to be considered for that promotion.”) We succumb to peer pressure and don’t want to risk not being liked.

The consequences of saying no to the crowd can be hurtful.  I found myself being ostracized more than once because I didn’t want to join the group. Believe me, although somewhat hurtful, it was better than the alternative:  I had learned the painful lesson of becoming too friendly, too open and too close with people at work.

Being a YES person doesn’t necessarily get us respect anyway!  True, we may be liked, but that doesn’t make up for not being respected.  This is the risk of the person who sets professional boundaries.

So, as a general rule, it is appropriate to say, “No,” when it isn’t in one’s best personal or professional interest to say, “Yes.”  Here are some guidelines:

1. You feel taken advantage of (people perceived as YES persons may experience this more than others.)

2. You are beyond tired and must take care of your well-being. Staying even one more hour is pushing the limit.

3. You are being asked to do a colleague’s work because that person is lazy or overwhelmed or knows you are better than she is at that given task.  There are promises of a return favor, but you know this won’t be the case.  You don’t want a favor from this person anyway!  (Don’t confuse this with a manager delegating work to you, which he/she should be doing!)

4. You are uncomfortable becoming too friendly with co-workers.  Once alcohol gets involved, it’s a game-changer. Another type of boundary-breaker is the person who privately shares her personal dramas with you.  Or, of course, there’s the office fling.  My vote?  Do nothing that might make you the topic of gossip and don’t create an expectation that you are the dumping ground for others’ problems.

5. You are being dragged into gossip and condemning of others.

6. Your ambitious nature makes you want to say, “Yes,” with the motive to get ahead. Sometimes this is appropriate!  We want to be perceived as  team-players and a proactive leaders, but this can backfire if we use it to promote how great we are.

We can’t always say, “No,” and that’s a reality.  It’s okay to say, “Yes” when:

1. You are a team-player and want to contribute beyond the call of duty.

2. You see someone in need of help and have the capacity to chip in.

3. On the odd occasion, the team is rallying together late for an important business cause, such as solving a major client’s problem.  Pizza and chocolate for all are called for in such situations.

4. You feel good about saying, “Yes” with no regret or fear.

So, how do you say, “No” without arousing ill-will?

Always start with addressing the concern of the other party.  Here are some examples:

a. “I know how much you value my work and think I’m the right person for the task. I appreciate that. I’m going to say no because it will dilute the quality of the work I have on my plate.”

b. “Thank you for inviting me to join you for drinks.  It makes me feel good to be invited! I’m going to say no because I need to replenish my energies for the morning, and just relax at home. I would be happy to have a quick lunch with the team tomorrow, if it’s convenient for you.

c. “I’m sorry you’re having such problems with your boyfriend.  I don’t want to hurt your feelings and I hope you work it out.  I feel that I’m just not the right person on this subject.  I hope you understand.  I’m very excited about working with you on this project.  By the way, are you free at 3pm so we can go over that report?”

In the end, saying, “No” is not easy.  But, if we hold to the idea that we are setting professional boundaries, we are more apt to gain respect.  And, as long as we are compassionate towards others while we turn them down, we can contribute to creating positive working relationships.

Enjoy your assertiveness,


Copyright, PointMaker Communications, Inc., 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jackie Kellso and PointMaker Communications, Inc., with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.