The Downside to Saying Yes and Learning To Say No

In 2005, radio producer and author, Danny Wallace wrote a novel titled, Yes Man. The idea was that for one year, Wallace would say yes to every offer presented to him. While this is an intriguing way to combat the mundane, it’s a weak strategy to apply to one’s career.

The average workplace is a microcosm of society where social and professional elements intersect. There’s a hierarchy ruled by etiquette, all of which is hard to ignore for those hoping to get noticed for their abilities. Most workplaces fail in running their organizations as a meritocracy.

Many equate a rise to the top by one’s willingness to say “yes”. The belief is that by uttering the word “yes”, an employee can get the attention of those higher on the ladder. Saying “yes” to every request can make you the go-to person when a job needs to be done.

Everything I just wrote might sound appealing but a piece of good advice is to remember that there’s power in saying “no”.

Appeasement is Counterintuitive

The tendency to appease is anathema to productivity, creating a low standard and even fostering animosity. Setting appropriate boundaries doesn’t mean taking a draconian and petulant approach to the responsibilities of your role or your relationships with colleagues. It means drawing a faint line in the sand, and letting your colleagues and managers know that certain tasks don’t take advantage of your abilities and could be a misuse of your time.

Creating boundaries is a by-product of confidence. It allows you to fall into the comfort of agreeability only when you are truly in agreement, not to be nice or avoid reprisal. Best of all, it puts you in the position to say no again in the future. As Steve Jobs often said, “Focusing is about saying no.”

By saying “yes” to every request your role will become muddled and your true talent will be forgotten. If you’re always the person reformatting everyone’s computer or setting up chairs for an event, your colleagues might quickly forget that you have a keen strategic mind.

Making the Greatest Impact

Your strategy for career growth should be designed around making the biggest impact. To achieve this, you might need to push back against decisions that you disagree with. It all sounds easy until you’re in that situation, staring into your boss’ eyes, and your brain is fighting against letting the word “no” slip through your lips.

Never be afraid to say no and offer alternative solutions to an idea or request. Creating boundaries and operating from a foundation of honesty and good intention might be less popular in the short-term, but it is a more productive way to build your reputation and a successful career.

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