Why 'No' is the Kindest Word in the Professional Lexicon
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Some psychologists will tell you that "no" is the most dangerous word in the world. I don’t buy it.
So often interpreted as negative, I'm convinced that “no” is one of the kindest words in the English language. My brilliant co-founder recently published a post where she referred to her last year and a half in New York as “professional-finishing school.”
Having been here for about the same amount of time, I too have come to find that this city has refined my professional acumen. The most unexpected change is that I now look at the word “no” through an entirely different lens. Here’s why:
1. It is efficient. Whether you are an entrepreneur, a corporate lawyer, a teacher, etc., time is of the essence, and none of it should go to waste. Saying “no” to someone is a respectful way of guiding that person to use your mutual time together more efficiently.
“No” says to me that you are willing to be direct, up front and that you think I have the intellect and emotional quotient to interpret that information without losing my cool or experiencing an unprofessional moment. It empowers me with the knowledge of where you stand so I can move forward with alacrity.
2. It indicates respect and boundaries. Some years ago, when I was just a year out of college, I took on a volunteer job that required an early wake up call on Sundays. This translated into calling it a night on Saturdays before midnight, which I was happy to do in this instance.
What I was most nervous about, however, was how my friends would take it. Would they give me heck about ditching the party early? Or would they encourage me to stay “just another hour”?
When I actually dropped the hard stop on the nights out several weekends in a row they not only adjusted, but were entirely positive and supportive. That Sunday morning activity was then recognized as a meaningful part of my life, and some of those friends even joined me every once in a while thereafter, making it even more special.
3. It is a shelter from overwhelm and overload. I have found myself as of late surrounded by a wealth of freelance professionals and consultants. I can’t even begin to express the number of times I have heard them articulate issues that, at their very core, had to do with anxiety around saying “no.” I felt and continue to feel empathy for their position, for I too am a “yes” person.
It’s counterintuitive, but in the instances where people have defined their boundaries -- happiness on both sides resulted. My take is that working professionals in general are overwhelmed with projects, and competing priorities.
If you think about it, everything is a team game. If you say yes, inevitably your team will need to field part of that task. And if you say yes to everything, burnout results, morale suffers, and the original mission is diluted. Sometimes saying “no” might not only keep your sanity in check, it may actually be saving the people you work with some heartache as well.
4. It tells me that you have a focus, and makes your “yes” more powerful. Now, people may disagree with your focus, but at least you have one. We live in a world with infinite choices and on-demand services. You can envelop yourself in a perpetual stream of data, emails, phone calls, you name it. “No” gives you the ability to define your priorities and live with intention.
Before I put the "pen" down entirely, this post isn’t about saying “no” to everything. Rather, this is about divorcing “no” from the tone so often associated with it and approaching the word as a tool to communicate effectively. It’s a word that deserves respect, and can even come with its own opportunities if you allow it to do so.