Just say no!

By Younas Chaudhary

Imagine you have reached the final stage of a job interview for your desired position and the prospective employer has exclusively flown in two senior officials from out of town to discuss your final offer. However, you feel it is not a fair deal. You have three options:

Younas Chaudhary
  1. You could say yes, out of sympathy for the time and resources spent by the prospective employer.
  2. You could say no and feel guilty about it.
  3. You could say no and walk away without guilt.

Saying no is difficult. But in situations like these, if you do not say no, it will disappoint you and even hurt you in the long run. In life, most of us say yes to a lot of things we do not really want.  But those things eventually become part of the status quo. Thus, by showing too much deference and consideration to companies (especially intimidating large corporations) and their officials, we can ruin our future and damage our long-term career success.

Saying no to someone or a situation is hard, as it creates unpleasantness, and it is human to avoid creating unpleasantness. But I frequently say no to decisions at work that I feel will hurt our bottom line. As a quick decision-maker, when my intuition opposes a proposed course of action, I immediately say no, and I rarely regret it. If I need to give the decision more thought due to its long-term implications, I sleep over it and return with a decision the next day.

Over the years, I have trained myself to be a straight shooter. In business, I make decisions and then stick to them. I have learned to say no, and I have learned to accept it when people say no to me.

However, at a personal level, when it involves relatives and friends, I know it is even harder to say no. Sometimes your friend or relative may ask you for a spare loaner car, and it may be good to lend it to him if he is in dire straits.

But I find it really amusing when people say no out of embarrassment. A grocery delivery man came to deliver meat and groceries to my home. It was around noon, and I invited him to join us for lunch. He politely declined at least five times, saying he was busy and not hungry. But then I grabbed a plate and handed it to him to eat. He reluctantly did so, but then he apparently really enjoyed the meal. That did not surprise me, because I could see that he was hungry. I do not understand why we sometimes get embarrassed and say no even to things that our body needs.

Ultimately, you should say no without considering the emotional fallout. I feel that we should not overthink and over-prepare, but instead, just say how we feel. Do it with a sense of mild force, but make sure you communicate your intent clearly. Weak managers commonly look for “yes men” in their teams and exploit them to the hilt, because they know they will not say no to any tasks.

But unfortunately, “yes men” do not grow their personalities, and if you are saying yes all the time, you will not have a feeling of accomplishment. Instead, if you say no when you need to, I can promise you that the feeling of accomplishment will be well worth the effort. For instance, if somebody is asking you for money all the time but is not improving her/his life or habits, it will be better for you to just say no without beating around the bush.

Another tactic is to set boundaries between work, home, and colleagues. Even as we talk about a new, post-pandemic workplace culture filled with empathy, hope, sustainability, hybrid work arrangements, etc., know that the ones who push these have their own prejudices and agendas. So be prepared to have clear boundaries so that you can say no without any hard feelings.

According to Vanessa Bohns, in her study “Underestimating Compliance” at Cornell University, “we are constantly influenced by others—other people regularly goad us into doing, saying, believing, and buying things.” This is an important reason why marketers use influencers to change your perceptions and buying behavior even if you wanted to say no to certain material needs.

When saying no to someone, make sure it is not wishy-washy, as it will confuse the other person. Instead, say it very clearly so that there is no coming back on that topic or situation. At the end of the day, saying no involves showing self-respect on our part, and there is nothing wrong with that. So just say no.


The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this article are my own and do not represent the opinions of any entity with which I have been, am now, or will be affiliated. Further, I make no warranty regarding the accuracy or effectiveness of my recommendations, and readers are advised to consult other advisors as well as their own judgments in making business decisions.

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