Enterprise Software

Don't let the bad economy banish 'no' from your vocabulary

If you blindly accept any duty or project that comes along, you're not doing yourself or the company any favors. If you're spread too thin, someone or something will suffer for it. Learn how to say no.

If you blindly accept any duty or project that comes along, you're not doing yourself or the company any favors. If you're spread too thin, someone or something will suffer for it. Learn how to say no.

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One of the casualties of the bad economy is that fewer people will use the word "no" in the workplace. With the real or imagined specter of the layoff boogeyman lurking in every hallway, employees feel that turning down any project or responsibility will mark them as dispensible, so they keep taking on new duties until they're turning in 60- or 70-hour workweeks.

Even the self-employed are not immune. Even though you may sense that a prospective client will be more trouble than he's worth, something -- fear of poverty, perhaps -- propels you to take that client on anyway.

But, for your own sanity and the quality of your work, you must learn to say no (occasionally, you understand, and when it's in your own best interest to do so). I'm not saying that you should learn the word "no" in 12 different languages so you are prepared to reject every suggestion directed your way. That would definitely get the attention of your manager and not in a good way.

At the same time, as a manager myself, I must say that I really need my staffers to tell me no when I'm making an unreasonable request or if the requested task pushes bandwidth too far. If they don't, then I'll just keep piling it on until the day one of them climbs a watchtower.

Don't mislead your manager by blindly accepting an assignment and then missing the deadline because you bit off more than you can chew. When people say yes to everything, something is going to suffer.

Let me just say here that I've come to realize over the years from reading the TechRepublic forums that many of you work for ogres who would eat their young and that "no" may not seem like an option. But there's a way to do it. Here are some tips:

  • Be polite but direct and stick to your guns. Don't feel like you have to run down a laundry list of your other duties just to justify the turn-down.
  • Avoid self-deprecation. If you decline by saying you're not the right person for the job, the requester is just going to insist that you are in order to make you feel better.

I read a piece in Forbes magazine a couple of years ago that said:

"Most people overestimate the fallout from denying a request, and underestimate the consequences of agreeing." Remember that the next time the ogre stops by.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

7 comments
pskhoo24
pskhoo24

First things first, I'll have to admit that this is by far the most refreshing & positive comment that I've come across during these dire times filled with uncertainties. However, I believe that if the 'no' is to come out from our vocabulary, it all boils down to one thing - justification. And this, I might add, is exactly in line with one of the tips given, only my version would be:- Be directly polite with justifications. The only question is - Just how just should my justifications be to 'stick to my guns'?

deetee2000
deetee2000

What if you say no but are still bullied into accepting the job anyway?

richakharya11
richakharya11

I do agree to this. But something I am really scared of is a vaild justification to your no. Can you throw light on how our approch should be while saying the two letter word. Thanks

nshaffer
nshaffer

I am definitely going to remember this story and put it to use not only at work, but also in life situations as well!

AlphaCentauri
AlphaCentauri

Sometimes the request is simply being passed down from much higher on the ladder. In this economy, you do whatever is necessary to hold onto your job. Not to mention that the request may not make sense to you, but actually has a legitimate reason when viewed from other perspectives. It is a better idea ask for help in doing whatever was asked for. You can say you're on other projects they are taking up a lot of your time, or something to that effect, and that in order to take on new projects, you'd need help, either on the new one or on the existing ones, or that you need help with prioritizing tasks in order to take on new things. A manager will almost always respond positively to a request for help than to a plain "no" or "this is a bad idea" response.

Hoffman147
Hoffman147

Never say never and never say no The easiest was to say no is to make the requester say no. For example if the requested work requires additional hours of effort discuss what existing work needs to be deprioritized, delayed, or dropped. Another example is if the work is on the edge of your skill set, usually the result of laying off the person with the skills. State that some additional training is needed and or additional time is needed to complete the work and learning on the fly. The no of the first example is the easiest to accomplish and be careful of the second. Especially if you should have the skill set.

d1g1t
d1g1t

Yes, If ... Never say no always say, "Why, Sure I can make an end run around my first level manager." "IF you don't mind, just sit right here while I get them on phone and we'll see what we can do!" ...but never start a sentence with the word no.

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