Learning How to Say No


I am the type of person who doesn’t have the heart to say no to someone. This got me in trouble with boys in middle school and it’s getting me in trouble at work now. Not the ‘talk with principal’ type of trouble, but more of a bottled up frustration. I tend to think of others before I think of myself. I am the intern that texts her boss before coming to work and asks if anyone wants coffee before thinking about how I’m going to get it into the office. So when it comes to working after hours, or offering solutions when I don’t have the time; I have trouble saying no.

I have said yes to things that I shouldn’t have, and complained about it to my friends and family rather than saying no. So before I write a formal apology to my loved ones, let me tell you how I learned how to say no. Wait, I never learned, I had to be told multiple times, by multiple people.

In the first month of my internship, the CEO came up to me with this exciting opportunity for a campaign that I would be working on all by myself. Of course there was a caveat, which was the deadline, nearly 5 days after I got the assignment. I waited for details to come into my inbox; nothing came until Monday, a day before it was supposed to go live. How was I supposed to say no to this opportunity, even if it meant working two 14-hour days until it launched?

From this moment on, I became the CEO’s pet, or so my supervisor says, and she chose to use me over her freelance designer for minor tweaks to other campaigns. I was called and emailed on weeknights with people expecting deliverables and given edits over the weekend due on Sunday. Each time I was told it would only take a few minutes, but I should have known better. The CEO literally said to me one day, “You know you can say no to me, right?” before I finally got it.

For people with my personality, temperament and upbringing, saying no in the workplace is a problem. We can easily be taken advantage of and it is out fault at the end of the day. If you are like this, I highly encourage you to read Alexandra Levit’s book They Don’t Teach Corporate In College or Huffington Post’s rendition on the subject. I can’t guarantee I’ll say no the next time I’m asked to work overtime, but at least I’ll think about it and that’s a start.

Emily Jaffe

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5 Responses to Learning How to Say No

  1. hailayn says:

    Wait, you mean we’re allowed to say no? Haha I’m in the same boat with you. I’m a people pleaser who likes to show I have a can do attitude and can take on whatever is thrown my way. That being said, I’m starting to realize my boss would be more than understanding if I told her I have a lot on my plate and explained to her what I think is possible during a certain timeframe. I hope yours is the same. Good luck, darling!

  2. I think that this is one of our generations “problems” because the lines separating our personal and private lives seem so blurred. It’s like we would rather kill ourselves than say no and feel like we let someone down. The good thing is your CEO sounds more than understanding. Good luck harnessing your new found power!

  3. The only thing I’ve found to help me feel better about saying “no” from time to time is to remember that taking on too much may diminish the quality of your work. You want to be proud of your work instead of anxious that you even completed it, and your supervisor will understand that. Good luck with finding your balance!

  4. pdxsx says:

    Great post, Emily! It takes a while to get the hang of “no’s” and there is certainly a specific style that needs to be used, but saying no can, in many cases, be better than saying yes. It can be scary though!
    ~K

  5. cmckee2 says:

    It’s definitely hard, but I think saying “no” and making sure people understand your limits also makes them respect you more. Nobody likes a doormat. It’s also good that your supervisor and CEO are sympathetic to your situation.

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