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How to Say No and Be Positive at the Same Time


In a still-shaky economy, saying no can feel dangerous. We’re told by career counselors and mentors to be positive, and what’s more negative than the big N-O?

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Said too abruptly, “no” can make it seem like you’re not a team player, but if you never learn to say it at all, you’re likely to find yourself overbooked and under-appreciated. Your co-workers and managers might even start to see how frazzled you are, instead of how accommodating you’re being.

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“Saying no is the first step toward freedom for someone who says yes too much,” writes leadership coach Dan Rockwell at his blog Leadership Freak.

To make sure you’re able to give positive noes instead of constraining yeses, make sure that you have the time, space, and mental strength to answer the question thoughtfully. Rockwell says that the three characteristics of a “good no” are that it:

1. Makes room for priorities.

If you said yes to every person who asked, you’d soon find yourself with no bandwidth for additional requests. Don’t overbook your schedule. Make sure that there’s room for disaster and last-minute schedule changes. Remind yourself of your priorities and goals on a regular basis and don’t let someone else’s agenda supersede your projects.

2. Keeps you living in your strengths.

One of the best times to say no is when saying yes will force you away from work that you enjoy and do well and toward work that stretches you in ways that aren’t positive. In other words, agreeing to do a presentation now and then is healthy, even if you dislike public speaking; agreeing to do a presentation every Thursday instead of your favorite work project isn’t.

3. Opens a door.

Will saying yes help you make new connections, learn a skill, or develop a rapport with someone in another department in the company? Then it’s probably worth it. If not, be careful how much of your time you’re giving away.

Tell Us What You Think

Are you bad at saying no? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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