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In order for us to grow as a person, we need challenging objectives. So going out of your comfort zone to learn new skills is okay, but when the problems you are facing are so challenging, that you are almost certain they can’t be solved with the recourses and time you have, it can be completely demotivating. And so, very often, you have to push back and take a deep breath, because you simply cannot keep delivering under high pressure. But why is that so hard to do?
Why is it so hard to step back and say no?
In many cases, even when you feel the pressure is too high for you to deliver, you will still end up taking on a challenge, because you don’t want to fail or disappoint. You don’t want to disappoint your manager, who might put a lot of pressure on you and you don’t want to disappoint yourself, because not being able to tackle a problem is often associated with failure. We have been taught at school that not fulfilling a request is bad and is considered a failure. That’s why even when you feel you can’t take another challenge, your body will feel uncomfortable with not delivering. And then you wind up going back into your conditioned behavior and habits you have been used to all your life. So you say yes, with all the consequences that follow. If you feel that you recognize this pattern in your work life, you probably are wondering how you can step back in a productive way, without sabotaging your career and in a way that doesn’t kill your work-life balance. I will share with you the five things I learned throughout my career that helped me tremendously with that issue.
How can I say no, without sabotaging my career?
1- What is important in my life?
The first crucial thing you have to figure out – and if you have been following me, I’ve said this a hundred times already – is to really know what you want. What is important for you in your life? How does your ideal life look like? What place do you give to your work life and to your private life? How does your ideal life look like? How many hours would you like to spend on work and on your family and friends? If you don’t know the answer to these questions and you have just been riding a train without knowing its destination, you might not know why you need to push back every so often. So the next time your boss comes to you with very high expectations you know you can’t or don’t want to live up to, keep in mind what you really want if you want to say no and you still feel the tension in your body. That way, you are in charge of your life and you have decided to manage your priorities in line with your values and the life you’d like to lead.
2- Notice the sensations in your body and accept them
I’d like you to imagine the following situation: your boss is putting pressure on you and wants you to deliver something that you know is not feasible within the time you are willing to spend on your job, or with the resources or people you have to help you. You know it’s just not achievable to deliver exactly what she or he asks.
What do you feel inside your body?
You might feel the tension in your shoulders, weight on your chest, or a knot in your throat. Most people will want to escape these sensations by reacting the way they have always reacted. For many, this is doing everything that is requested, as that is what they have been taught to do as a child. So instead of going back to your conditioned behavior, the next time you feel uncomfortable, try to accept these sensations and free yourself from your conditioned behavior, instead of reacting impulsively. If you are uncomfortable when your boss asks you something unrealistic, it’s your body’s way of telling you that you cannot keep saying yes. Because if you do, it will probably be at the cost of what you want in life. It might be at cost of your work-life balance, or at cost of your health. So even if saying no might disappoint your boss in the first place, it is better than to disappoint them in the long term, because you said yes too many times and you have lost all your energy and motivation.
3- Show empathy to your manager
This might not always be easy, but it is still very important to show compassion to your manager. Even – or rather – especially if they are requesting you something in a very dominant or directive way. Because at that moment, your manager is probably under high pressure as well. Instead of reacting to their behavior, try to put yourself in their shoes and react to the needs and emotions behind that behavior. Tell them you see that they as well, are under a lot of pressure, but you still have to say no, because you don’t want to disappoint them, knowing you cannot deliver what they asked you to. Instead, try to find a way to help each other and reach goals you are confident you can reach.
4- Express yourself as well!
I also noticed through experience that it helps to express your fears, because nobody can get angry at your fears, and it is a very human way of communicating. I believe that by saying no, people respect you more, especially if you have mastered the art of saying no. People who say yes to everything, because they want a big promotion and prove themselves, often wind up in a burn-out, while people who have learned to say no, will get respect in the long-term, even if in the short-term, some people can get angry.
5- Time your answer wisely
If you have decided that you are going to say no to a certain request, try to find a great timing to tell your manager. If they are in a meeting with shareholders or other colleagues, it is wise to emphasize the importance of their request and say that you are going to calculate the possibilities, because you don’t want to make a promise you can’t keep. If you say no at that moment, it might damage their ego or make them feel like their authority is undermined. So when if you want to say no to their request, tell it to them afterward in a constructive way by being empathic and seeing the needs behind the request.