The Cost of Saying No

In the common wisdom of productivity circles there is a mantra the best way to get control of your activities and workload is to start saying no. Sounds easy right?  Just say no and then whatever that item is isn’t on your list. Just say no and you’ve avoided all that work.  Just say no and you take control of your life.  Just say no and unicorns show up with boxes of Krispy Kreme donuts that help you lose weight.  (Ok, maybe not the last one, but you see where I’m going with this.) 

Unfortunately, as is with most things in this world, it’s never that easy.  There are costs for saying no and those costs often prevents it from being said.  But why is saying no such a big deal?  Let’s take a look at three of the most common reasons people have a hard time saying no. 

I don’t want to be the bad guy 

Humans are social creatures by design, regardless what your introverted friends say, and the last thing we want to do is anything that would put our standing in the groups we favor in jeopardy. Saying no is a resistance to the structure and needs of the group and can push you away from the perceived common interest.  It’s this risk of becoming an outsider even if only for a moment that compels many to say yes to work they should rightfully be resisting. 

If I don’t do it, no one else will 

If you’re in a survival situation where unless someone goes and gathers food you’ll all starve when the zombie horde comes then that job is a “must-do”.  There aren’t many real must-do jobs in the world.  Most often the urgency is a created one, not reality based, and it creates a sense of pressure and influence on people to do “what must be done.” Evaluation of these items critically especially with an eye towards the actual impact if they are not done is key in deciding what the cost of saying no will be. 

It makes me look like a team player 

That it might but the question then becomes how do you look to the rest of the team.  If you’re a soccer fan having the goalie playing striker and defense, while possible, is not a good idea.  There are specific skills and talents needed, ones not everyone has.  Just because they’re available doesn’t mean they’re the right person for the job. Be aware of your strengths and your weakness and know when to accept work you can be highly successful at or that helps you grow as an individual.  Also know when to resist work that you have a low chance of success or does not help you continue to grow. 

But I don’t have a choice 

That’s not one of the three but rather an assessment of the cost outright.  You have decided that the perceived cost of saying no is too high for you to suffer for whatever reason. Perhaps it places your career at risk. Perhaps you have seen others suffer negative effects from saying no to work. Perhaps even you are compelled internally to always do what people ask of you to be a “good person.” In all of these cases I stress pragmatism and analysis. The only thing worse than saying no is saying yes and failing miserably when you knew better. 

Saying no always has a cost. How you handle that cost and how it balances against the good will you develop from saying yes to the right work and succeeding can make all the difference in your decision making processes.