5 Times It's Totally OK to Say No at Work
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a “yes” person. I love being the one to swoop in, agree to the impossible project, and get things taken care of.
But, everybody knows that nodding enthusiastically to every opportunity that comes across your lap is a recipe for stress overload. “You need to learn to say no!” is advice you likely hear repeatedly from friends and family members who are sick of listening to you complain about your packed schedule.
However, saying no is a lot easier said than done—particularly if you’re someone who has grown accustomed to being there in a pinch. And, while you should undoubtedly put some thought into every opportunity you walk away from, there are definitely times when you’re way better off turning things down.
So, here are five instances when it’s totally OK—and even encouraged—to walk away.
1. When You Have a Better Opportunity
You only have so much time and energy, so you need to be somewhat selective about the opportunities, events, and projects that fill up your time. As cutthroat as it might seem, there’s no use in booking your schedule with lackluster opportunities—especially when it means putting something even better on the backburner.
As a freelancer, I find myself constantly evaluating and refining my projects and workload. I don’t want to end up in a situation where I have to turn down a potential high-paying client I’m excited about, simply because my schedule is already booked with second-rate projects.
If you have a better opportunity lined up, there’s no shame in turning something else down. It sounds ruthless, but it’s necessary.
2. When it Doesn’t Benefit You
This is another one that might sound a little self-centered and aggressive. But, it’s up to you to manage your best interests.
Of course, everybody has to do things that seem mundane or fruitless every once in a while (hello, adult life). But, when you have the option, you shouldn’t hesitate to walk away from things that offer absolutely no benefit to you.
Perhaps one of your professional contacts has requested a favor that involves a huge time commitment on your end. Or, maybe it’s as simple as a friend pestering you to attend a conference that doesn’t seem relevant or helpful to you.
There’s nothing wrong with being accommodating or offering a helping hand every once in a while. But, if you take on too many favors, you won’t leave yourself adequate time for the things that actually interest you and push you forward.
3. When You Don’t Have Time
Your time is precious. And, if you’re one of those people who has the tendency to enthusiastically throw yourself into any new project or opportunity, I’m willing to bet that you’re already spread a little thin.
Spoiler alert: Taking on too much can be a disaster. Not only does it lead to sleepless nights and chewed fingernails, but it also comprises the quality of your work—you’re running around frantically trying to get everything done, and you simply don’t have the time to do things well.
So, if you feel like your plate is already full, you have the option to say no to things that you simply don’t have the time for. Think about it this way: You’re better off turning down the opportunity in order to free it up for someone who has the bandwidth to do his or her best, rather than agreeing in haste and scrambling to do a half-assed job.
4. When You’re Not the Best One for the Job
I’m all for taking on a project that challenges you and pulls you out of your comfort zone. But, there are those other daunting tasks and assignments that make your mouth hang open and your mind go blank—you have absolutely no idea where to start. You just know you don’t have the skills or expertise to get this done right.
Listen, you can’t be good at everything. And, while pushing yourself to try new things is always recommended, there comes a time when you’re actually just getting in the way.
If you’re tearing your hair out and spending hours trying to solve a problem that you know the person across the office could figure out in two minutes, you’re really just wasting time, energy, and company resources.
Being honest about the fact that you’re not best suited for the opportunity is admirable. Plus, there’s nothing stopping you from asking that resident office expert to show you how he or she takes care of things. That way, you’re still learning new skills, without a huge toll on your schedule and sanity.
5. When it Makes You Uncomfortable
You know that gut feeling you get when something just seems off? There’s something about a request or direction that causes you to take a pause and makes your stomach twist into knots.
Maybe a client or customer asked you to meet a demand that seems a little foggy or manipulative. Perhaps your co-worker wants you to cover for him when he lies about a sick day. Or, maybe your boss asked you to do something that just makes you plain ol’ uncomfortable.
It’s up to you to stand firm in your beliefs and listen to your conscience. If something makes you incredibly uneasy, you need to stick to your guns and walk away. Really, there’s nothing worse than facing the fallout when you know that you knew better.
I won’t sugarcoat it—saying no can be difficult and even a little counterintuitive. But, it’s one of those necessary evils. And, there are definitely those times when walking away is in your best interest. Take note of these particular instances and you’ll be prepared to say that magic word when necessary.
Photo of woman saying no courtesy of Shutterstock.
Kat is a Midwest-based freelance writer, covering topics related to careers, self-development, and the freelance life. In addition to writing for The Muse, she's also the Career Editor for The Everygirl, a columnist for Inc., and a contributor all over the web. When she manages to escape from behind her computer screen, she's usually babying her rescued terrier mutt or continuing her search for the perfect taco. Say hi on Twitter @kat_boogaard or check out her website.More from this Author