The Power of Saying No

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Why do we always feel compelled to say yes? Whether it’s something we want to do or not, and whether or not we have the time for it, we often say yes to responsibilities and obligations that are presented to us. Then we end up stretched too thin, wishing we had more control over our schedules and commitments. But we’ve actually had control the whole time – we just don’t always use it. For a change, try adopting a practice where when you’re asked to take on an optional extra obligation or commitment, start with a default answer of “no” in your head, and then move to yes if you decide it’s worthy of your time. Most of us start with the word “yes” instead and never consider that “no” is an option. If that’s difficult, at least leave your response open-ended by saying something like “let me check my schedule and get back with you.” That buys extra time to decide how worthy the activity is of our time.

Even when we do say no, we often feel guilty for doing so, and we find excuses as to why we can’t commit, instead of just telling the truth outright. For example, when a friend asks if we’re available for dinner and we’re just run down and don’t feel like going, most of us find an excuse such as “Sorry, but I’ve got another commitment that evening.” Why aren’t we just honest and say that we’re exhausted and need a night to relax? And why are we sorry about that? Why does our culture drive us to remain busy all the time?

The same principles can be applied to the workplace productivity. When we find ourselves loaded with piles of responsibilities and someone asks us for one more thing that we really don’t have the bandwidth to handle, don’t be afraid to politely explain that you are not able to take anything else on at that time. The bottom line is that it’s ok to say no sometimes – in fact it is really powerful.


The Culture Counts blog is a discussion of law firm culture and legal innovation, including topics such as effective leadership, employee engagement, workplace culture, ideal work environment, company core values, and workplace productivity.  

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