When To Say No At Work (And Why It’s Important)

If you feel guilty and uncomfortable saying no at work, you’re not alone. You may think people will dislike you, think you are entitled or question whether you are a team player. It seems paradoxical, but saying no strategically and respectfully can help your career. I spoke to successful women to find out when to say no at work (and why it’s crucial).

Responsibilities:

“Say no at work when you are assigned a task that does not fall under your job description and could be easily accomplished by the person who is asking it. It’s important to say no at work because it earns you respect. If you aren’t getting paid to do something and the task will take away time from accomplishing what you are paid to do, saying no demonstrates your commitment to your role and the value of your time.” — Eileen Carey, CEO of Glassbreakers

It Doesn’t Align With Your Long-term And Short-term Priorities:

“Prioritization is critical in today’s 24/7 work environment. I keep a list of long-term and short-term priorities and if a task or project doesn’t fit in one of those buckets, 99% of the time I decline it. My best tip for saying no is to be straightforward and not dance around the subject. Explain that the task, project or activity doesn’t align with your current priorities and, if the situation changes, you will revisit the topic. Also, sometimes you can suggest an alternative solution. Remember, everyone has to say no at some point, so the person will respect your candor.” — Johanna Lanus, CEO and founder of Work With Balance

You Disagree With The Decision:

“If you fundamentally disagree with someone, or if you are questioning why you are working on a project, you should absolutely say something. You don’t necessarily have to say no, but you should always feel comfortable questioning and pushing back on processes that you disagree with. You don’t always have to agree with every decision being made, but you should always feel empowered to question choices and, at the very least, to stir conversation. Asking why is a good substitute for saying no because it forces the opposite side to explain and justify her point of view. Asking why allows you to present your side too. While you might not agree with the justification, you will better understand where your boss is coming from.” — Liz Wessel, CEO and cofounder of WayUp

It Doesn’t Accomplish A Key Goal:

“We say no to any meeting or project that does not directly or materially work toward the accomplishment of our key goals. Part of doing any role well is hearing out any and all opportunities that come your way, such as proposed partnerships, co-marketing or cross-functional projects. At the end of the day, however, you have a limited amount of time and resources, and it’s your job to make sure you’re spending these resources on the highest-impact endeavors. When you receive a proposal that may be a distraction, the best thing to do is hear it out fully and then directly and politely explain why it’s not a fit for the company at this time. Being honest about your limited ability to take it on will resonate with anyone because the proposal is likely coming from someone with similar constraints who will respect your honesty and commitment to your goals.” — Alexandra Friedman and Jordana Kier, cofounders of LOLA

It Conflicts With Your Values Or You Can’t Deliver Results:

“Saying no is hard. I tend to gravitate toward yes. When you welcome opportunity, it tends to lead to new, better and exciting things that result in even more opportunities. I can trace certain wins and successes back years and back dozens of introductions and connections, which makes me realize that welcoming opportunities is so important. That being said, saying no is just as important. You should say no when it is going to set a precedent that you aren’t comfortable with or that might be harmful moving forward. It is also important to say no when you know that you won’t be able to deliver.” — Amanda Greenberg, CEO and cofounder of Baloonr

Saying no will provide you with the time and energy to focus on the work that will move your career forward. Remember: No is a complete sentence.

Elana Lyn Gross is a content strategist at mllnnl, journalist and the founder of Elana Lyn. Elana Lyn is a professional and personal development site that provides millennial women with actionable job search, career and wellness advice.

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