After a few years of building our careers, many of us learn to be fairly accommodating, in order to get along with our colleagues — and bosses. The problem with learning to say yes, readily, is that it becomes hard to say no when you have to. And if you can’t say no, you sometimes can’t advance your career to the next level.
(Photo Credit: Horia Varlan/Flickr)
“As we succeed, a key challenge becomes prioritizing the many opportunities that present themselves,” writes Ed Batista at Harvard Business Review Blog Network. “We often try to do this without saying ‘no’ definitively—we still want to keep our options open. Inevitably, though, this results in a lack of clarity and overcommitment, and we wind up disappointing people, exhausting ourselves, or simply failing. To prevent this we need to learn to say “no” gracefully but firmly, maintaining the relationship while making it clear that this is one opportunity we’re choosing not to pursue.”
The key to doing this, Batista says, is to learn to be “more comfortable with discomfort.” In other words, you’re never going to get to a point where saying no is an entirely anxiety-free experience. If you’re an entrepreneur, you’ll worry about turning down opportunities and money; if you’re a salaried employee, you’ll worry about annoying the boss or taking yourself out of the running for a promotion.
So how can you learn to say no? Keep the following in mind:
1. Practice makes perfect.
Batista advises practicing saying no, until you get more comfortable with it. In her book Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink, Katrina Alcorn describes adding “say no” to her to-do list, as an item to be crossed off, in order to make sure she took some time back for herself every week.
2. You only have so much to give.
Energy and time are finite resources, even if we don’t always want to believe it. When you say no to something, you’re saying yes to something else — often yourself.
3. Doing one thing well is better than doing two things poorly.
Your professional reputation will take a hit if you do more things, less well. People don’t remember that you helped them out with a project, when you weren’t able to do a good job with it or your regular work. Protect your reputation and your sanity by drawing a line.
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