It’s good to lend a hand, especially at work. No one likes that co-worker who never helps anyone out. However, if you’re too accommodating, you might find yourself without enough time to get your own work done. Boundaries are important, even necessary. You can’t be productive if you don’t have any time in which to produce.
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It’s easy to opine on the importance of saying no, however, and hard to do it. If you’re having trouble drawing the line, these famous words might help.
1. E.B. White: “I must decline, for secret reasons.”
In 1956, the author of Charlotte’s Web and co-creator of The Elements of Style wrote this marvel of economy and elegant refusal:
Dear Mr. Adams,
Thanks for your letter inviting me to join the committee of the Arts and Sciences for Eisenhower.
I must decline, for secret reasons.
The lesson: Be brief, be polite, and whatever you do, don’t feel compelled to provide unnecessary details.
2. Warren Buffett: “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”
Regularly at the top of Forbes‘ list of billionaires, Buffett is now at least as famous for philanthropy as he is for wealth. He’s also a persuasive proponent of saying no.
The lesson: If you want to make your mark, you need to pick and choose where you put your energy. Don’t lose too much time running errands for other people. You can help your co-workers more if you have more clout in the workplace, and that means leaving time for big-picture thinking.
3. Tony Blair: “The art of leadership is saying no, not saying yes. It is very easy to say yes.”
The former prime minister of the U.K. made some controversial decisions during his tenure, but as this quote reminds us, all leaders do.
The lesson: When you’re tempted to say yes, ask yourself: is it because I think it will be helpful, or because it’s easier? Sometimes, saying no is more effective – even kinder.
4. Steve Jobs: “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.”
The lesson: Sometimes, the most important person to say no to, is yourself. Learn when to temporarily call a halt to brainstorming and daydreaming, and put your energy into getting one thing done.
5. Susan Gregg: “No is a complete sentence and so often we forget that. When we don’t want to do something we can simply smile and say no. We don’t have to explain ourselves, we can just say ‘No.'”
Life coach and author Susan Gregg reminds us of what we learned from E.B. White earlier: “no” is enough, all on its own.
The lesson: Don’t negotiate if you don’t have to. You don’t owe people a thorough accounting of the reasons behind your decision. Just graciously decline, and move on.
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