I spent the better half of this year interviewing for jobs. It was difficult at first because it had been years since I’d interviewed anywhere. But, after a few rounds of phone calls and in person interviews, I was back in the game. It got even easier once I realized I was being asked a lot of the same questions over and over. One question I received more than once was the cliche question everyone fears: “What is your biggest weakness?”
In my younger years, I made up the answer to this question, as most people tend to do. Certainly, I couldn’t walk into an interview and tell them I had a penchant for procrastination or that I wasn’t as detail oriented as my cover letter suggested. As expected, I always listed a generic negative trait that was really a positive one. Until finally, just this year, I decided to stop being polite and start getting real. For the first time, I gave an honest answer – I have trouble saying “No.”
My husband thought I was crazy for giving this response. Who wants an employee who says no? But in fact, saying no is a valuable skill. Learning to say no can help you to avoid getting overwhelmed and burning out. It can keep you from taking on too many of the administrative tasks that are important but rarely rewarded, causing you to miss out on the meaningful assignments that lead to the promotions and pay raises. It sends the message that your time is valuable and that you respect it as such, so others should too. It helps you to keep your priorities in check and most of all, it’s pretty damn empowering.
Of course, like anything else, there is an art to saying no. If you’re asked by your boss to take on a project for which you simply don’t have the bandwidth, calmly explain to your boss that you are working on a number of other projects and that you cannot commit to the new task without jeopardizing the quality of your work elsewhere. Make sure to follow it up with an offer to contribute to the project in a way that is less time consuming or ask if they prefer that you de-prioritize something else to make time for the new assignment. If your colleague is asking you for help and you aren’t able to pitch in, you can simply say that while you would love to help, your plate is full and you think he or she might be better served by someone who can devote more time to the task. However you choose to say no, be sure to be polite, respectful, and assertive. It will be scary, but be confident in the knowledge that preserving your time, talent, and skills will benefit you and everyone around you.
Have you ever said no at work? Share your stories in the comments!