How to Say "No" and Get Away With It

BY Jessica Helinski
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For so long, we were told that being a “yes man” would get us ahead professionally. We were told that saying “no” makes one seem like less of a team player, less of a people-​pleaser, and less willing to do what it takes to win. Reps push themselves to say “yes” to everything, and ironically, end up getting less done. It’s time for that to end. “If you want to take control of your time and become more productive at work, you must master saying no,” writes Mike Schultz in a piece for Sales Gravy. “When you don’t say no, you get sucked into everyone else’s priorities and you’re left with no time for your own.”

But how do you say no? Sure, we all know how to verbalize the word, but saying it to a boss, co-​worker or client can be scary. What if you miss something important? Will it seem like you don’t care? To save your sanity and your productivity, Schultz offers four tips for saying no without guilt. 

His first tip is to “prune your priorities.” Take a step back and take an honest look at everything that’s on your plate. Not only do you likely have too many priorities, not all of them may be the right priorities. This careful examination will probably whittle down your to-​do list to include only those things that really are necessary. “Ask yourself if you’re truly gung-​ho about a priority,” he writes. “If you’re not, if your passion and belief in it is not at the peak, don’t do it. Tell yourself, ‘If it’s not gung-​ho, it’s no.'” 

Second, turn down the noise. There is so much noise in your workday: emails, meetings, texts, LinkedIn shares….the list goes on. While you likely can’t shut off all the noise, you can change how you respond to it. Rather than rushing to agree, think about how this request can be handled for maximum efficacy. He suggests the following: 

  • For meeting requests, respond and ask what the agenda is and how you can be helpful at the meeting. Maybe they just need you to report for a few minutes on how XYZ is going.
  • Getting interrupted with a question? Respond with, “Actually, I’m concentrating right now. Can you come back at four o’clock when I’m packing up?” 
  • Someone wants to pick your brain? Ask if you can call them on your walk home. 

These responses show that you care about what’s being asked of you while still valuing your own time. 

In addition to the other two tips, Schultz also offers advice on how to say no to specific types of people (like THE boss!). All of his insights can help you take control of your own time and just say no (without missing out or making someone angry). As he explains, “saying no is difficult. It’s emotional. But it’s necessary if you want to take back control of your day and get the most done.”