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  • The Underappreciated Art Of No in Business

    Say No photo from ShutterstockHow to set respectful professional boundaries to avoid burnout.

    In a rebounding economy, where many professionals and business owners are still trying to find their footing, it may be tempting to simply be grateful for opportunities and refrain from doing anything that might make you look like anything less than a team player. However, if your goals include moving forward in your career or growing your business, being a “yes person” is counterproductive.

    Protecting your assets

    Your three most valuable resources, as a professional, are your time, energy, and money. Leveraging each allows you prospects for growth. However, there is an opportunity cost whenever one is invested. When you agree to help a slacking co-worker finish his project before deadline, you cannot spend that time on your own project or bonding with upper management at a charity on the same day. If you are a business owner who constantly agrees to coffee meetings that are free “brain picking” sessions, then you cannot spend that time on revenue-generating activities for your company. If you constantly find yourself loaning money to co-workers or not following up on collections in your business, you are missing out on opportunities to invest those funds in your professional education or business.

    The Power of No

    Every professional should become comfortable saying ‘no’ to clients, co-workers, management and peers when necessary. Resources are almost certain to be squandered when an effort is made to always retain a “nice guy/girl” by becoming a door mat. No is not the domain of the selfish. In fact, the people who label others who respectfully decline as self-centered are typically users themselves. Their objection comes from the fact that they do not appreciate not receiving exactly what they want, even if it comes at the extreme inconvenience  and disadvantage of the giver.

    Three simple steps for saying ‘No’

    1. Evaluate the situation. Do you have the overflow of resources (time, energy, and money) to say ‘yes’ without putting yourself in a bind? Would saying ‘yes’ be a good investment of your resources? Will you receive a return on investment (which could include simply feeling happy to lend a helping hand) or will you feel resentful?
    2. Decide if you owe the person making a request of you an explanation. In some cases, for instance those including management, you may want to offer a reason that justifies your ‘no.’ In most situations, a simple ‘no’ or ‘I have a conflict’ with a kind smile is sufficient.
    3. Stand firm. Unless the person making the request offers new information that sheds a completely different light on their request, hold firm in your decision and do not apologize for setting a boundary. Do not get defensive if asked why, simply repeat your gracious ‘no.’

    Remember, while always saying ‘yes’ may make you more likeable, likeability alone rarely translates into promotion or business growth. Seek ways to add value, but always set respectful boundaries in an effort to remain efficient and effective.


    Crystal Washington is a social media marketing strategist, speaker, co-founder of Socialtunities—a social media instruction brand that trains Gen Ys-Boomers on the strategic use of social media, and the author of The Social Media WHY: A Busy Professional’s Practical Guide to Using Social Media Including LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, Google+ and Blogs for Business. She is hired by corporations and associations around the globe to provide keynotes, workshops, and webinars. Connect with Crystal via Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

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    Posted in entrepreneurship, Personal Branding, Skill Development, Workplace Success
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    4 comments on “The Underappreciated Art Of No in Business
    1. avatar

      I really like this post, Crystal. My favorite part is where the person should be standing firm. A lot of times in my experience, when I am left with little choice but to say no for my own good (or the sake of my team), I have to stand firm to not set a bad precedent of giving up too easily. Tell me, what would you suggest we do if we say no to a request, and someone higher up than the original requestor intervenes? We know that this request will overload our work, but obviously can’t argue with the boss in charge…

      • avatar
        Crystal Washington says:

        Thanks William! I would suggest first reiterating your position to the higher up. Let her/him know that forcing you to complete the task will affect the quality of your work as you are overextended. If that doesn’t work, try to negotiate something else off your plate. If neither of these courses or actions prove effective, I would like to point out the following:

        1. It may be time to look for another place of employment as the current management is either unwilling or unable to focus on quality of output.

        2. If you successfully complete the project, in addition to your standard workload, your workload (and stress) will only increase in the future.

    2. avatar

      Hi Crystal, definitely good points. Some respect is deserved from management in order to make this possible. This was at a past company of mine, and I did move on shortly after observing this behavior.

      • avatar
        Crystal Washington says:

        William, I’m happy to hear that you were able to move to another company that respected their employees!

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