Here’s Why It’s More Important To Say No

In the office, in your relationships, in your life.

Photo by Gemma Evans on Unsplash

If you’re like most people, you’re better at saying yes than you are at saying no.

I’m awful at saying no, and this means a lot of the time, I give in and say yes to things I don’t have time or energy for.

Yes, I can take on that additional responsibility.

Yes, I will come have a coffee and talk about your breakup.

Yes, now’s a great time to talk.

For fear of seeming rude, we accept to do most things if asked, even if they are counter to our own well-being.

Last weekend, one of our friends was telling my partner and me an anecdote about her work. She’d gotten into the bad habit of saying, “Absolutely not,” even to things which were minor, or even things which she probably could have done.

“Someone asked if I minded making them a coffee before a meeting, and I just said ‘Absolutely not!’ without even thinking about it!” she was telling us. “I felt so rude.”

Photo by Christiana Rivers on Unsplash

And yet as the story continued, it turned out that this habit, which she’d picked up from God-knows-where and which made her feel so rude to her coworkers, had increased her productivity beyond all reckoning.

She wasn’t wasting her time on small meaningless activities. She wasn’t doing work someone else could and should be doing. She was focusing with laser precision on her tasks and her priorities.

“Saying No has always been important, but perhaps never as essential a skill as it is today.” — William Ury, author of The Power of a Positive No.

Not only that, but saying no to small things made her more prepared to say no to big things.

“My manager asked me to take on a big project. I knew my current work would suffer, which she’d told me was a priority for her. So I just said ‘Absolutely not.’ ” Cat told us. “Later on she came back to me and agreed it would have been difficult for me to perform well on both, and that she was glad I had chosen to prioritize and deliver on the most important project.”

Why We Say Yes

Why do we all struggle so much to say no, even when we know it’s the right choice? Perhaps because in our society, it’s important to appear polite and helpful. We’ve been trained into thinking refusal — even well-intentioned, logical refusal — is rude.

Photo by Charlie Marusiak on Unsplash

This is why we often end up overloaded at work, double-booked for events, signed up to things we don’t really want to do.

It makes no sense, when you think about it. When we say yes to everything, this ends up harming out relationships as we struggle and fail to meet all our promises.

Not only that, when we say yes to everything unimportant, it means we won’t be able to say yes to the things that really matter.

Cat told us a while later that her boss’s boss had come to her and asked her to take the lead on a newer, bigger version of the project she was currently working on.

“I was thrilled to realize, because I’d said no to so many other smaller projects, that I was more than capable of doing this big one,” she said.

When we indiscriminately say “yes,” we invest in other people’s priorities instead of our own.

When we’re unable to wield the word “no”, we spend our resources on minor things instead of focusing on what really matters to us, or to the people in our lives.

I’m not advocating saying “no” every time a friend asks you for help, or your boss asks you to take on a new responsibility. Just to be aware of our all-too-human limitations and realize that behind every “yes” you say now, takes away more time, energy and resources down the line.

Today, at work, I tested it out for myself: my annoying coworker asked me to do something she could easily do herself. Instead of giving in and saying “yes,” like I always do, I said, “no.”

I didn’t apologize, I didn’t give a reason, I simply said no. I kept working on what I was doing and I was able to finish my task.

I haven’t worked my way up to “absolutely not” quite yet, but maybe one day I’ll get there.

We only have 24 hours in every day. There is a limited amount of time, energy each one of us has access to. And when we manage to say “no” to something, that means we can say “yes” to something else which is truly important for us.