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April 27, 2017
The Power of “…No.”

A while back, I wrote about the beauty of the word “yes.” Today, as I sit on a red-eye flight to London on a Sunday night, after surviving a weekend of my teenager’s slumber parties, lacrosse games and other various activities, I’m focusing on the appropriate times to employ the word “no.”  Between my work and personal life, and all that blurs in between, I am constantly balancing the yin and yang of using yes and no.  One word you’ll likely never hear me say, however, is “maybe.”  More on that later.

I’ve never been a fan of the word no. I don’t like to disappoint, and I love the possibilities that come with a yes.  However, sometimes, to use “no” is to find an incredibly useful word in your arsenal.  In a world where saying yes can have a positive impact on your career, reputation and personal development, it’s tempting to always say yes and try to please, but it may leave you in a situation where you ultimately let people down, or where you agree to things that are not actually in the company’s best interests. Learning to say “no” is an important one for us to use; it’s ferreting out when to do so that becomes the challenge. 

As a counterpoint to my piece on embracing “yes and…,” follow along for a few simple hints to aid you in determining when is the best time to say no without coming across as negative or the anti-team player.

1. Determine your priorities.

Whether it’s at work or in your personal life, we all need to build an understanding of what is most important to us.  My life is fairly straightforward.  Right now, it’s all about doing the best job I can at work aiding my company to thrive, and doing the best job I can as a mom, helping my daughters to thrive. I’ve learned that to do well in both, I need to be all in.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t leave a ton of room or latitude for other areas in my life.  I’m not complaining; it’s the choice I’ve made for this period in my life.  When I have that precious downtime, I try to load it full of fun things to fill in the gaps; time with people I care about, traveling, and opportunities to learn. However, to live my life the way I’ve designed it, I have had to make these areas my priorities. It’s not often graceful; it can really turn people off when you say yes to one set of things, and no to another. Especially when that no involves them.  It’s critical though, in allowing you to achieve those priorities.

2. Your no is someone else’s yes.

I’m past the point in my career where I am needing to do that Donkey-from-Shrek move of “Pick me! Pick me!!”  As much as I love learning and tackling new ideas, I’m realistic with how much I can take on and truly commit to. When my children were in elementary school, I decided (insanely) I would create a before and after school program which would provide enrichment opportunities for all the kids in school.  Loved the idea; I was incredibly passionate about.  However, on top of everything else I had on my plate, I bit off WAY too much.  I enlisted the help of a business partner who handled the financial end, and together we ran the program for several years.  And then it was time to turn that “yes!” into a “no.”  We created a transition plan, recruited a new set of moms to take over, and walked away having not only created a successful program, but also providing an opportunity for others to take over who came with new energy and ideas.  A huge win for all.

3. Embrace that no isn’t a dirty word. 

We often fear if we say no, we appear to be lacking as a team player. Truthfully, it comes down to when you use it – and how you use it. I work with a team of exceptional people, all who want to provide the best possible service to their customers. They could have clear cut goals, and manage their time effectively.  However, if someone asks something out of that scope, often times their inclination is to say, “Yes, I’ll help!” rather than the more realistic, “no.”  I coach them to consider each and every request, and assess the costs/benefit of taking it on. Quick, easy task? No brainer; pitch in and help out. Creating a new training program from scratch? Being asked to hire someone not in the forecast? Rather than simply disregard the request outright, partner your no with an alternative. It’s hard to argue when a request is met with, “I’m sorry, I can’t take that on right now…but what I could do is XXX.”

4. Say no, get more productive.

We’ve all struggled to say no at some point in our lives.  Looking for some extra motivation?  Saying no can make you more productive.  I’ll also go out on a limb to suggest that it helps us maintain our sanity.  Warren Buffet once said, “The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say no to almost everything.”  I’m not suggesting you turn all your yeses into nos.  I am, however, suggesting that if you can get comfortable prioritizing and staying focused on your core activities, and you’ll find you are far more productive. Which in turn, might just free time to allow you to say yes when you have more capacity to do so.

None of this is rocket science.  We all want to contribute, be a team player, and have others think well of us.  Appreciate that we are ALL in the same boat; and if none of us summons our confidence to be able to utter “no” in a while, we do both our work and ourselves a disservice.

As for using “maybe?”  Commit.  You’re in, or you’re out.  When we say maybe, we often build false expectations of hope.  Be decisive, pick one, and move forward.  Your productivity and impact will thank you for it. 


Christina Luconi is Chief People Officer for Rapid7. Follow her on Twitter: @peopleinnovator.