10 Reasons Saying “No” Can Help Your Career

by Lennon, Dawn Wednesday, November 03, 2010
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Sounds counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? After all, our careers will grow, we’re told, when we say “yes” to:

-A new project or team leadership
-A lateral move or promotion
-Domestic or global relocation
-Management’s requests
When you’ve waited a long time for an opportunity, it would seem absurd not to snap it up. Right?

Take stock.

It’s flattering when management turns to us and says, “We think you’re the right person for this move.” Our almost knee-jerk reaction is to say, “Yes.”

Then we start to think, “What have I just agreed to? Can I succeed at this?” When “buyer’s remorse” sets in, we realize that backing out is worse than declining in the first place.

The reality is that no one at your company knows better than you do about:

-Your career goals, both long- and short-term
-The depth of your skills and your confidence in them
-Your ability to lead, influence change, and to do what’s right
-Your personal and family commitments
That’s why we need to understand when saying “no” is the right answer for our careers. “No” sets boundaries. It says you are willing to make hard decisions and live by them to achieve what’s best for you and the company.

Get real.

It’s time to say “no” when:

1.The risk is too great. When a project isn’t staffed or funded adequately and internal support is weak or uncertain, the odds for success are low, putting you in a perilous place.
2.You aren’t adequately prepared. You need the right set of skills, knowledge, and experiences to handle new demands. Without them you chance disappointing expectations and blunting future opportunities.
3.You aren’t ready. Self-confidence, courage, and motivation to handle challenges can make or break us. If it isn’t in our belly, we need to wait.
4.It’s a bad fit. Some assignments don’t connect our abilities with our interests, like going from a service position to a production line. When we’re a fish out of water, first we flop and then we stink.
5.It takes you in the wrong direction. If you want to be a supervisor/manager but every new role is as an individual contributor, then continuing down that path works against you.
6.The disruption isn’t worth it. Changes are disruptive. If the benefits, both personal and professional, don’t outweigh the impacts, then the opportunity falls short.
7.The move is unethical or unfair. Our brands reflect what we stand for, so when we see inappropriate jockeying in the workplace, we will be judged by our actions or inaction and then labeled.
8.You’re asked to cave-in to pressure. You might be told to change a performance rating for an employee or adjust some figures to make a result look better. These are tests of your standards and integrity. Your actions attach to you.
9.You won’t be happy. Who we work with, where, and under what conditions make the difference between a satisfying career and a miserable one. Choosing to be happy leads us to better places.
10.You’re entitled. One of the few things we’re entitled to at work is the freedom to say “no” or “yes” to opportunity. If we find out that saying “no” for rational and principled reasons means that our careers are impacted, then we know we’re working at the wrong place.
Take charge.

When what we want and what the business wants are compatible, the fit is perfect. But our organizations can’t know what we do and don’t want if we say “yes” to everything.

So we need to establish our expectations, standards, and principles just as the business does with us. It’s okay to tell your boss that you’re not ready right now, that you’d like to defer an opportunity for a year, and that you’re looking in a different direction.

When you do that, you increase your opportunities for “yeses” down the road. It’s your career. Please own it.