Start saying no

The tree was trying to tell me something – but what?

I’ve heard a lot in the last few years about “saying yes”. When opportunities come up, you simply say “yes” and see where it takes you. A post from tells us we can improve our potential by saying yes. There is truth to this, of course.

Even when you say yes to the party invitation although you can’t be bothered getting off the couch, you open yourself up to the possibility of meeting new people or trying that new cocktail recipe.

Other people expect you to say yes all the time

So, of course there is merit to saying yes, but the thing is, other people rely on us to say yes all the time.

Your boss comes to your desk and asks you to work late because she needs the report completed by today. She is expecting you to say yes. After all, she’s the boss.

A client comes to you asking to move the date forward for delivery of his project. He is expecting you to say yes. After all, he is the client.

Saying yes is very easy to do, because it usually produces a favourable reaction from other people.

You can move the deadline forward? Great!
You can stay late to deliver my report? Fantastic!

Saying yes consistently increases the chance of greater conflict in the future

Yes is much easier than saying no, because saying no creates conflict and can be uncomfortable.

Saying no to the boss who wants you to finish the report is going to force her to respond in some way to address the conflict. Yes is the path of least resistance and will reduce conflict for the time being.

As a leader, you need to start saying no. You need to start saying no to your stakeholders, you need to start saying no to your own manager and you need to start saying no to your team, at least some of the time.

As a leader, you need to start saying no.

Failing to say “no” sets a precedent that can have a lasting impact on you and your team – particularly if you say “yes” many times beforehand.

The more you say “yes”, the greater the expectation that you will continue to do so in the future, so when you eventually put your foot down and say “no”, people are going to be in for a nasty shock!

There are benefits when you start saying no

Pushing back early in a working relationship can have major benefits in the longer term. It sets the tone that where necessary, you will stick to your guns around certain issues. When you start to push back, it shows that you:

  1. Have standards that you want to uphold
  2. See the long-term ramifications of trying to be a people-pleaser
  3. Believe in positive outcomes more than pleasing people all the time.

You should also consider the ramifications for your team of being unable to push back on your own leader. More work from your boss often means more work and pressure for them – how do you think that makes them feel?

Often it is in your best interests to push back on leaders who try to burden you and your team excessively, time and time again. This is for the simple reason that your boss often isn’t the one that actually helps you to get work done.

Your team are your weapon – the ones that get things done for you. Wouldn’t it be more beneficial if your team was willing to work hard for you because they saw that you were trying to support them? It certainly looks better than when you try so hard to ingratiate yourself with your own manager that you sacrifice the team who works for you.

That’s a good way to become the sort of leader that nobody wants to work for.

Want to learn more? Get the “How to Say No” Guide!