5 Signs You Need to Learn to Say No – and How to Do It

One of the key elements of being a valuable part of any team is the ability to help support others when the work starts to stack up. Ideally, this help and support should work all ways, with everyone being willing to step up as needed. Otherwise, as opposed to being a giver who is prone to being more successful, you may just find yourself being taken advantage of at work.

If you find yourself taking on more and more tasks that aren’t necessarily part of your job description, you may start to wonder if you should be pushing back on others’ requests more often, so that you can focus on your own workload. After all, although it’s great to be a service-oriented worker who wants to make a contribution, there has to be a balance.

The word “no” is one of the shortest in the English language, but it is often one that we struggle to use, especially when it comes to the workplace. Nobody wants to be seen as anything but a team player. Still, when you start to feel overwhelmed with too many responsibilities as a result of wanting to be helpful, something has got to give. In the end, if you become burned out, you won’t be of much help to anyone!

With that in mind, we’ve compiled the five most common signs that you need to learn how to say no, and most importantly, how to do it without upsetting the apple cart.

You’re slipping behind with your own schedule

All employers expect you to be productive in the workplace. But, when you have to put in the extra hours to help someone else out with a deadline, you could find that it is your own work that suffers the most.

When staff shortages strike, whether due to illness or recruitment issues, it isn’t just your colleagues that can put pressure on your free time either. With requests for longer working hours and overtime, you might find that your personal life suffers as well. While this is unavoidable at times, if it becomes the rule rather than the exception, it might cause you to reflect on how you are using your precious hours.

From missing out on family dinners to having to rely on others to pick up the children from school, every extra minute you spend at work needs to come from somewhere. Therefore, it’s important to make sure that you do your best to help others, without losing sight of your home life priorities. To deal, you might find it helpful to offer to help out on certain days, while being intentional about keeping other days free so that you’re able to make it home to spend some time with the family or indulge in a favorite hobby.

Feelings of resentment start to rise

When you’re doing things for others that eat into your own time, it can be easy to start feeling resentful.

These negative emotions do little to create a happy and harmonious workplace. Therefore, if these feelings start to rise, it’s best to tackle them head-on and explain to the person in question that you’re beginning to feel overwhelmed by the additional work. Then, work together to brainstorm possible solutions. Perhaps the load can be shared some other way by delegating to someone else or including others in the project. Perhaps you can renegotiate deadlines. Talking about it in a constructive way often goes down a lot better as just a straight “no” and can help you release any tension that’s been building between yourself and your co-workers.

You can’t find the time for your own projects

If you haven’t been able to have any time for strategic thinking or your own side projects because you’re doing so much for others, your motivation can suffer. After all, if you don’t have enough time to devote to the things that excite you, you might be missing out on a sense of achievement and passion for your work.

Saying no because you have other priorities that take precedence isn’t something you should feel guilty about. Instead, take a deep breath and explain why you are unable to help. Outline how the project you are currently working on will benefit the business and the team as a whole. Providing a bit of context is sure to be better received than just saying “no” and not offering any further explanation.

You’ve become the office lifesaver

If you’ve started to see yourself as having to save others at work because they are incapable of doing a task for themselves for whatever reason, you really do need to start saying no. In fact, if you don’t learn to push back, you are likely reinforcing their over-reliance on you.

Although helping your colleagues out constantly might win you points for popularity, you might find that you’re losing respect and being leaned on when they are perfectly capable of carrying out the task for themselves.

Remember, these people have been employed as they are able to do the job that’s been assigned to them, and by taking advantage of your kind and compassionate nature to get off with a much lighter workload, they’re putting you in a position that will make you less successful. As organizational psychologist, Adam Grant, research showed in his book Give and Take, people who are the most giving at work tend to be the most successful, with one important caveat. Those who gave to their own detriment, were the least successful.

Without balance, you’re only shooting yourself in the foot. Therefore, instead of just accepting additional work and coming to the rescue of others, you might choose to offer to work alongside them for an hour or so to help them complete the task themselves However, if their behavior continues, you’ll likely want to address it head-on by pointing out the pattern, and the negative effect it’s having on you.

You get bogged down with all the grunt work

If you’ve found yourself engaging in all the office grunt work that nobody else wants to do, start making a diary of everything you’ve done over the past few weeks that don’t necessarily fall under your purview. Make notes of the task, date and the amount of time it takes to complete before totaling up the hours you’ve spent doing the work that everyone else seems to be avoiding.

Once you’ve got this data to hand, you have a good case to take to your manager that shows precisely how much time been taken away from your actual role each week. Given that your manager might not even be aware of how much time these tasks take, it could be very eye-opening. And, it might provide a good starting point for exploring how this work can be more evenly shared amongst you and your peers.

Author Paulo Coelho wrote, “When you say yes to others, make sure you are not saying no to yourself.” If you’ve been afraid to say “no” in the past, you might just find that, when done appropriately, it can improve your confidence and make you feel more empowered. It can help you to advocate for yourself, create a fairer workload balance in the office, improve your productivity, and enhance your sense of well-being.”

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Atlanta-based Corporate Psychologist and Life Coach