Career Talk

/ 4 years ago /

 Article by Alex Ekong

The simple way to say no to people at work and make it stick

The workplace can be a treacherous place sometimes. If you’re not careful, the politics and the social dynamics of the office might just swallow you whole.

This kind of thing can be especially difficult if you’re a new starter. I remember me on my first day at Debut HQ – bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and as nervous as BBC News interviewee when naptime is over.

say no

My new peers were good to me and took me under their collective wing like the baby bird I was. But since I was an intern at the time, I felt awkward turning down anything. This led to me taking on a whole load of tasks when I was already swamped with things to do and drinking nearly every cup of coffee offered to me out of sheer self-destructive politeness.

Eventually, with practice and a caffeine detox, I became the Content Creator you all know and love. But had I known this indispensable life hack, I could have gotten there a lot sooner. I don’t want you, our dear sweet Debutants, to suffer. So I’m gonna let you in on it.

How to say no in the workplace and mean it

say no

As much as being a helpful intern or being the office’s shoulder to cry on is a good thing, it soon starts to take a toll on your mental health and performance. Research has shown that offering to help your co-workers too frequently can actually make you worse at your job. That’s why a little word like ‘no’ can make such a giant meaningful difference.

But how do you find a better way to say no at work? According to Mental Floss, it’s as simple as having the right semantics. Choose your words carefully. Are you saying no and then finding yourself easily budged? Trying using ‘don’t‘ where you would use ‘can’t‘.

Why does this work?

say no

Well, it goes back to a 2012 study in the Journal of Consumer Research, which found that the way a statement was framed had an effect on how well people thought they could stick to it.

When you tell yourself that you don’t eat junk food as opposed to you can’t eat junk food, you trick yourself into thinking that it’s a hard and fast rule. ‘Don’t’, semantically speaking, is unbreakable. ‘Can’t’ implies that that you would do it if not for something – like your own force of will – getting in the way.

The same goes for when you’re talking to other people. Next opportunity, try telling someone you don’t work during your lunch break because you need your space. They’ll probably respect you for it rather than try and talk you out of it.

So take heed, friends and make your refusals powerful. As you go on with your work, start telling people that you don’t say yes to things you should say no to. It might save you a lot of time and sanity.

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