"Taylor, can you help me out with this report? I need some research done by tomorrow, or I'm really going to be in trouble."
"Taylor, we need someone to head up this new committee, and I think you'd be perfect. Can you put a team together by next Tuesday?"
"Taylor, we're really having trouble with this client and it would be so helpful if you could go there and sort of calm them down. It would be great if you could leave right away."
"Taylor, someone left a mess in the break room. On yourlunch hour, do you think you could use your great organizational skills and bring order to the chaos?"
Many of us hate to say "no." We say "sure" or "yes" to requests for many reasons, but few of them have to do with what is best for us and our careers. We don't say"no" because we don't want someone to be mad at us. We say "yes" because we feel guilty or we're afraid of what could happen if we don't agree to a request.
And, in this rotten job market, we are afraid to say "no" for fear it could cost us our job.
But I recently interviewed some psychologists for my Gannett News Service and USAToday.com column, and they made it crystal clear that not learning to say "no" may be terrible for your career -- and your life.
“When you’re scared about being the next one to be laid off, all kinds of dysfunctional things start to happen,” says Pat Pearson, a Newport Beach, Calif.-based clinical psychotherapist. “You start getting more paranoid, you do your work less well, and you start feeling as if you can’t say ‘no.’ So, you take on anything they throw at you.”
But the problem, Pearson says, is that such a move just makes a career “more and more dysfunctional.”
“You have to decide: Are you going to have a healthy work environment or not?”
Paula Bloom, an Atlanta-based clinical psychologist, says that every worker must realize they only have so much emotional capital to expend every day, and pushing the limits may cost them the very thing they’re hoping to protect.
“If there is too great an emotional cost, then you will become resentful and unpleasant, and not nice to be around. And people who are a pain in the butt are often the ones who are let go,” Bloom says.
Both Pearson and Bloom stress that the emotional and physical cost of never saying “no” – even in this stressful job market – can take a real toll on workers.
“If you don’t feel good about what you’re taking on, then you become negative and angry, and then you’re not only hurting yourself, you’re hurting the company because you’re not going to be as productive,” Pearson says. “If you are doing things you don’t want to do, then you’re going to pay a price with your health. You’re going to get sick more often, and have a high stress level."
But how do you say “no” without being considered a poor team player or labeled with some other negative moniker at work? Both Bloom and Pearson says it’s a matter of understanding your boundaries and then being prepared to make the “no” sound positive. They advise:
Be willing to ask for what you need. "Maybe you’ve been asked to work late, and you can agree to it, except for on Thursdays, when you need to get home on time because your kids have soccer,” Person says. “You have to decide how much you can live with, and what you can’t do without."
Taking a deep breath. “Don’t freak out when someone makes a request. Just say, ‘I would love to be able to help you out, but it won’t work today. If you could give me a few days notice next time, I might be able to do it.’” Adds Pearson: “Act thoughtful and say something like, ‘Let me see what I can do.’ It gives you time to think about it and then make a decision when you’re not under pressure.”
Living with integrity. “If you’re screwing around on the Internet for an hour every day, or faking your time card, then you’ll try to compensate for your guilt and say ‘yes’ to everything. If you live with integrity, you’ll be able to say ‘no’ and not feel guilty,” Bloom says.
Understanding the difference between “can’t” and “don’t want to.” Bloom says that even when the boss makes a request, you can say “no” if you’ve made an honest assessment of your workload. “You can always say, ‘I’d like to do that, but can you help me figure out the priority of these nine other things I have to do?’ Put the issue back on the boss.”
How are some other ways people can be smarter about saying "no"?