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How to Say No When We’re Pressured to Say Yes

It’s easy to say yes. It’s easy, when someone approaches you with a project or task, to agree to do it and just deal with what it means to have that task added to your laundry list. And yet you feel compelled to take it on. Saying no means that you could be disappointing that person.

But saying no means also saying no to the feelings of being overwhelmed.

So why do we feel so pressured to say yes all the time? 

The Expectation:

You should say yes to everything because it will make you look reliable, flexible, motivated, and ambitious.

By taking on this task, you are potentially taking it off someone else’s plate and they’ll be forever grateful to you.

The Reality:

Being a yes-person all the time is going to put too much on your plate. I’m going to tell you right now that not all experiences are good experiences and taking something on just to take something on, whether or not it will push you in the right direction for your career aspirations, is going to exhaust you and keep you from focusing on the tasks you actually care about.

I’m also going to remind you that having to give the task back or admit you can’t do it after you’ve already taken it on is going to look much worse than having said no in the first place.

Saying no when they first ask shows that you know how to balance your priorities and tasks and know what you can take on. Giving a task back shows the exact opposite. And it’s straight up embarrassing, no matter how understanding your boss may be.

If you take on too much you’re going to start feeling the pressure. You’re going to be overwhelmed, overstressed, and feel like you want to just quit outright and start fresh with a new job, a new name, and in a new city (don’t do this).

Having too many projects and tasks also splits your focus and ability to produce quality work since you’ll be quickly jumping between assignments without the ability to dedicate the time they deserve.

Because you’ll be finishing them to get them done and not to do them well, your quality of works suffers and the odds of you impressing the higher ups will decline.

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The Solution:

Say no!

Look, I get it. It’s a lot easier to say yes to something and suffer through it than say no and potentially look unreliable. And saying yes to everything shows your tenacity and resilience, and adds experience to your resume. Trust me, I get it.

But as a former yes-person, I can attest that it’s only going to end in heartbreak and breakdown. Prevent future breakdowns by subscribing to the “No Philosophy” today!

Beyond the obvious “just say no” strategy, it’s important to set yourself up for success with the projects you already have and how, when you do say yes to a project, you know you can handle it.

The biggest way to do this is know your limits:

  1. Be honest with yourself (and those assigning projects to you) from the beginning: If someone is coming to you with a project, tell them honestly whether or not you can handle it. Even if there is any shadow of a doubt, let them know that.That response may be, “I’m going to have to look at my schedule and get back to you,” but at least it will be honest. I promise, unless they have no idea how business works, they will be understanding of that. And they’ll appreciate you being up front with them about it because they want the project to be successful too.
  2. Know what you can do and how long it will take. For the projects you do have, estimate the time it will take you to complete them. Schedule out your day around these projects. As gaps appear, you can take on something new, but only if you have significant gaps. And stick to this schedule. If you’re trying to do multiple tasks at the same time, you’re going to end up with a bad product.Remember, you can whole-ass half the projects you can half-ass. But if you’re dedicating an hour to getting that report to Susan in Production and it deserves an hour of focus, Susan in Production is going to be much more impressed with a quality product than one that barely passes as complete.
  3. Know what your job title is and what it entails. There are so many jobs out there where you’re asked to “wear many hats.”  This can be nice because it teaches you to multi-task and develop many different skill sets. The downside is that you can end up with a stack of hats that tend to topple.  Knowing the boundaries of your job can help you say, “hey, I don’t usually do that, but you should ask Sally about it” without feeling like you’re leaving the requester out of luck. Having a solution for them instead of just saying no will allow them to still pursue the task and will make you look much more responsible.And if you’re finding that your boundaries are not set clearly, ask your supervisor about them. Odds are, they don’t want you doing certain tasks either because it will keep you away from the projects you were actually hired to do.

Saying no takes practice and bravery. It takes knowing what you’re capable of and knowing your limits. And it takes honesty with all involved. If you say yes to everything, that facade of you being dependable fades quickly and will ending up hurting you more than helping you. So start saying no. It will be a relief.

About the Author

Julie Winsel

With a background in magazine and newspaper publishing with a splash of business-sense, Julie (Eckardt) Winsel is re-pursuing her passion for writing. Now living in Eugene, Oregon, with her husband and cat, she likes vodka-crans and getting caught in the rain.