Does Your Career Suffer If You Say NO at Work?


As a coach, I've been exploring the topic of saying NO for a while now. Part of my work has been to create a workshop and develop a new program for the topic.

Some of my research includes asking women the reasons they don't say NO when they want to at work.

Here are the top reasons that I heard from the respondents:

  • I don't want to lose my job.
  • I don't want to be disliked.
  • I don't want to be seen as difficult.
  • I don't want to be seen as unable or incapable of doing a task.
  • I want to be seen as a team player.
  • I'm afraid of the retaliation.
  • I'm afraid people will think I'm not pulling my weight.
  • I'm a people pleaser and it's just difficult for me to say no.
  • I don't want to miss out on a great opportunity if I say no.
  • I feel honored someone asked me, so I do it.
  • I like to stay busy.
  • I like to be challenged.

Many of the respondents acknowledged that early in their careers, it was beneficial to take on different opportunities because it helped them learn, grow and stretch themselves.

Ok, I get that.

But, what do you do once you pass the early stage of your career?

How do you change your default answer from YES after you've paid your dues, earned experience, and are well established?

Many of the women admitted that they never say NO at work. They see it as detrimental to their positions.

I understand the reluctance to assert your personal power. I've been there. Life can be tough and people do lose jobs. Reality is reality.

And no matter how hard we wish for it, there isn't a magic bullet that solves everything. I'm not going to sugar coat any of this and make it sound easy.

However, I do want to raise the question: Is saying NO truly detrimental to your career?

From where I'm sitting, I see huge red flags. I believe your refusal to say NO when everything in your body and mind say otherwise is a mindset issue.

If you choose to see your response as detrimental, then it will be detrimental.

If you instead believe there might be other possibilities, there will be other possibilities. Why?

Because when your mindset is in exploration mode, you are flexible and willing to consider other potential scenarios.

When you are mindset blocked, it's as if you are frozen in place and refuse to see other options.

One of my favorite authors, Shawn Achor, shares in his book Before Happiness that Skill 1 is to create positive change in your life by choosing "the most valuable reality."

He writes:

While the human brain receives 11 million pieces of information every second from our environment, it can process only 40 bits a second, which means it has to choose what tiny percentage of this input to process and attend to, and what huge chunk to dismiss or ignore. Thus, your reality is a choice; what you choose to focus on shapes how you perceive and interpret your world.

When you recognize the existence of multiple realities, you can choose the most valuable reality, train your brain to add vantage points, and see the world from a broader perspective.

So I ask you again: Is saying NO really detrimental to your career, or is that your blocked mindset talking?


Nozomi Morgan, MBA, is a certified Executive Coach and the Founder and President of Michiki Morgan Worldwide LLC. Addition to coaching, she speaks and trains on leadership, career, professional development and cross-cultural business communication.

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