How to say no to your boss – and still get ahead

Oct 10, 2022 | Coaching & Mentoring

Say yes to yourself, your mental health, and your career advancement.

In honor of world mental health day, let’s talk about why saying no to work is not only good for your mental health it can help you get ahead in your career.  The reality is that for most people, there will always be more work than there is time.  One of the biggest myths I see people buy into is that if you always work the overtime, you’ll get ahead.  This isn’t always true.  Today, I’m going to discuss why saying no can help you get ahead and give you some tips on how to do it effectively.

Why always saying yes can actually hurt your career:

  • You become a do-er vs. a thinker.  If you are overworking and not giving yourself space to think and decompress, you will likely find that you are not able to access the most creative parts of your brain, which is often responsible for creativity, strategy, and problem-solving.  This may mean you are developing a great reputation for “getting things done” but you might not be seen as the person that can take things to the next level so you very well might see yourself get passed over for key management and strategy positions that you desire.  There’s definitely a healthy balance to strike here.
  • You miss out on key opportunities to highlight your big projects.  Often saying no means you have to tell your management team about other projects that are higher priority or give them choices around which is more important to them.  By saying yes all the time, your management team and beyond may not understand the breadth of your contribution.  Making things look too easy means your management team doesn’t understand the value you bring.
  • You will not get the support you need. When it’s time to ask for extra resources or more time, it’s easier to justify if your management can see a history of passing up on things or having to deprioritize other projects.  If you always just get it done, why do they need to hire additional resources?
  • You may be sacrificing quality.  Quantity isn’t always the best marker of success.  Sometimes it’s much better to dig your teeth into one or two key projects that are going to move the mark for you and your company than to stretch yourself thin across multiple projects and just get it done.

Okay, I’m convinced but how do I say no?

  • Say yes AND give management the chance to prioritize.  One of the best ways to say no is to use it as an opportunity to highlight another important project you are working on. For example, you might say, I am excited to get X done for you, but that means project Y will be delayed by 2 months.  Is X the first priority for you or would you rather me stay focused on Y?
  • Say yes AND lay out the additional resources needed.  Highlight that you are ready to do the work and you need to have 2 additional headcount if both Project X and Y need to be done in a particular timeframe.
  • Say no AND highlight the key projects consuming your time. A great way to start to make the case for additional resources is to make sure you highlight what you have been doing. For example, you might say, I would love to do this.  However, I’m overloaded. This month alone, I’ve already put in the work to land a $10K project with X company, troubleshoot Y problem worth $30K, and brought in 10 new clients.  Let’s chat about how we can onboard more resources if we need to keep working at this capacity?
  • Say no AND highlight why it’s not aligned.  Say no and highlight why the particular project does not align with your – or even better the company’s goals.  It gives you an opportunity to highlight your career goals and showcase your strategic thinking on behalf of the company in the case of the latter.  It can also open up doors for you if the company’s strategy is shifting so you can position yourself for that stream of work if it interests you.

What are some best practices around saying no?

  • Know the financial value of your work.  Most companies have financial metrics around the value of a customer, an order, or a revenue projection.  Makes sure you understand what financial metrics pertain to your work.  Even if you work on the back end of the company infrastructure, have a few handy metrics available such as the amount of revenue lost if a system is down for a particular amount of time.  You can use simple back of the envelope calculations such as the value per average order and how many orders they get per day or hour, etc. to help for example. Dropping the numbers into your “no” can help paint a more clear picture for management and help them properly prioritize.
  • Know when to say yes and be transparent.  With any business, there will inevitably be an “urgent” or “emergency” situation that comes up.  From time to time, I do think it’s helpful to be a team player but if this is the norm rather than the exception, just say no.   I find it’s helpful to develop a measurement up front with your manager or right after a situation arises.  For example, you might establish that you’ll put in extra hours if you can and it’s really urgent (and define what urgent means) but if it’s happening more than once per month, per quarter, per year, etc., then it’s a problem and time to hire more resources or develop other work surge solutions.
  • Don’t feel the need to explain with your personal commitments. So often, we justify our no by explaining a personal commitment we may have made for that night, etc.  It’s not that I don’t think you should talk about your personal life – quite the contrary actually.  However, if you always feel the need to justify, what happens that time that you want to say no just because?  Whether you want to go home and lay on the couch, practice yoga, or have dinner with your kids, it’s your time – and all of that is okay.  Your time is your time and it’s better to set a precedent that sometimes you are going to say no case closed to give you more options in the future.  Besides, different managers will have different personal priorities so dropping in a justification may or may not be helping your cause.  Feel confident that your company doesn’t own all of your time.

As always, if saying no still feels scary for you, don’t hesitate to reach out.  And, if you are a leader or a company that asks your employees to put in a lot of extra hours, I’m happy to help you find different surge solutions that work for both you and your employees in a healthier way. Do not hesitate to contact Livthentic for an exploratory discussion or schedule directly on calendly.  I see your spark and want to help you grow it into a flame. You can also join our mailing list to stay in touch or follow us on Linkedin, Facebook, or Instagram.

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