Why saying no is good for you

Do you routinely do things that you don’t want to do?

If so, it might be time to say “no” more often.

Yesterday, I was chatting with a friend, who is a consultant for a very big consulting firm. She lives in a big city and normally works with clients in that same city, often onsite with the client.

But a few months ago, my friend’s boss told her that she would be staffed on a project in a different city—in a different country, in fact. This would require her to fly several hours each Monday morning and each Thursday evening, for at least four months.

What would you do in this situation?

You probably have friends and maybe also family where you live. Saying yes to this deployment would mean that, at a minimum, you wouldn’t be able to see them for half of each week. In the other city, you’d stay in a hotel and there might not be too much to do around there. Plus, traveling this much might prove exhausting.

If you didn’t want to take on this project, how would you respond to your boss?

For many of us, it can be difficult to say no to things we don’t want to do. We may feel that, because we agreed to take a job, and because we are the employee, we need to do everything our boss tells us to do. Or we may feel that, even if we don’t have to say yes to everything, our career will be “better” in some way if we do say yes as often as possible.

Counterintuitively, this is not the case.

The best thing we can do for our happiness, for our career, and for our work satisfaction, is to be honest about what we do and do not want to do.

That’s because as we take on more and more things we don’t enjoy, the odds are good that, sooner or later, we will resent our work. Resentment easily leads to low energy, stress, and friction—and none of those will be good for our happiness or for our career.

The more you can align your reality with what you want and with what you value, the more at ease you will be. Put differently: be honest and direct about what you want and don’t want to do; you’ll feel better in the end.

My friend, as you might have guessed, said no. In fact, she told her boss that he could fire her if he didn’t like her answer.

And guess what? Everything turned out fine. She continues to enjoy her work and she is staffed on projects in the city where she lives. All it took was saying “no” and genuinely being willing to find a different job, if necessary.


— Peter

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