Learning to say no

We are officially halfway through the Portland Senior Experience. It’s been a whirlwind as an intern. Learning the ropes in the real world can sometimes be daunting. With so much information and new skills expected of us to pick up and carry with us, sometimes a day at the office is outright­ overwhelming.


Last week, we did some research on our personalities. One of my personality setbacks was to work harder at just saying no. As an intern, this might sound counter intuitive to what is expected of us. And honestly, I haven’t practiced the habit.

Interns have this mentality that they’re suppose to say yes to any and all tasks handed to them by their organizations and companies. But the fact is that as interns, we are learning as we go. Trying to juggle a new assignment, a new task, in a new place, with lots of experienced people who know much more about how to do it correctly can wreak havoc if we can’t step back and say, enough is enough.

The point is not say no to what’s expected of you as an intern. There is a tactful and meaningful to way to let supervisors, mentors and bosses know that perhaps someone else can do that job better than I, since I have way more work than I can handle. Saying no in the workplace can be sometimes be a positive experience, especially if tasks become so over bearing, the outcome of a job is compromised.

I recently experienced a similar problem. I overlooked a task on a job and the end result was that almost all the work I’d done previously on it was down the drain. Had I just said no to one more assignment, I could have spent extra time on the fine details. Lesson learned the hard way.

Kathy Kwong

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6 Responses to Learning to say no

  1. Thank you for sharing, very good points here. It is interesting to think about knowing your limits. I also like what you said when you mentioned knowing your personality and how that all goes into play in the work place. It is crazy how much you learn along the way. What an experience.

  2. I like the point about the outcome being compromised. Finding a balance between taking on as much as you can to impress your boss and not overdoing it can certainly be hard. As interns, saying no can feel awkward and lame, but it is a skill we have to practice early in our careers!

  3. madelinestone says:

    I think you make a good point by saying that the intern mentality is to say yes to everything. I certainly feel like I am running around like a crazy “yes man” at times. But I also think that you don’t always have to be doing to be learning. What I mean by this is that sometimes just by being present and observing, you can learn just as much if not more. This is a skill I have yet to master, but continue to work towards. In a technical profession, such as photography, it is essential not to over estimate your skills, which is where saying “no” is absolutely necessary. Recently I have gone on several assignments that have had challenging light situations and/or no light. I have turned in decent quality images. But what I should have told my boss is that I need more training with flash units so I can be better equipped to succeed in low light situations and thus provide my editor with higher quality photos. So in this case saying “no” really means asking for help, which is a whole other issue all together.

  4. You make some interesting and relatable points here about making responsible decisions as an intern and employee. I know that I often want to take on everything to show I can handle myself, but like you said, it can often end up backfiring! Our book had some helpful tips to say no in a way that doesn’t hurt your career. It’s a good point that there are some things we shouldn’t say no to, but we also need to be aware of where to draw the line!

  5. pdxsx says:

    Great job, Kathy! We all learn lessons the hard way, but making sure we don’t repeat them is the real value. Super post!

  6. I really like how you brought up the need to say no. Often saying no is the hardest part, especially as an intern. I find myself saying yes to everything put on my table, but I need to express my limits even if I’m considered a bottom feeder. There is a limit to impressing your work; if you take on too much it can lead to not fulfilling a task correctly or not doing your best work. I think the lesson is to learn how much you can handle while doing your best work.

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