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Career Advice: Say No To Accelerate Your Career
by Ramon Greenwood

You must learn when and how to say "no" if you really want to accelerate your career. Because so long as you say "yes" to every request for your time and talent, you are allowing your friends and associates to consume your most precious asset--your time--to serve their agendas rather than advancing your own.

I know. It not easy to say "no." "Yes" gives you that warm and fuzzy feeling. Your ego is really stroked when you are asked to lend your abilities to solve someone else's needs. You become convinced that you are the only one who can do the job. You believe that taking on more and more assignments is the road to success. You are reluctant (i.e. afraid) to use "no" with your boss.

There are three steps to mastering the art of saying "no."

(1) Recognize that if you continue to agree to every request for your time and talent you are certain to become overloaded and burned out. You will lose your focus on those things that are important to your advancement. The quality of your work will inevitably suffer. The positive qualities that caused people to ask for your help will erode.

(2) Understand that the more you value your time the more other people will value it, too.

(3) Learn when to say "no." That time comes when you start missing deadlines; turning in less than your best work; showing signs of burnout.

(4) Learn how to say "no." Be brief, direct and honest. Don't beat around the bush when you have more on your plate than you can digest. Say "I'm sorry. Although I would like to do that job for you I am so overloaded right now that I simply can't deliver the kind of quality you and both want on the schedule you need. Can you give me a little more time or can we delay delivery of another one of my assignments?"

If the answer "no, I want it now," do the best you can. At least you will be on record that the work may not be up to par.

Most people will respect your honesty and will try to set a new schedule or lighten your workload by reassigning the task or getting some help for you.

If the request that overloads you comes from an associate, offer to help that person to do the task himself or herself. Offer to trade tasks. "You help me with X now; I will help you with Y next week when I have more time."

Resist those chronic complainers who want to burn up your time telling you about their problems and asking you to hold their hand or intercede on their behalf. It's okay to be Mr. Nice Guy for a brief time. But when that role begins to cut into your productive time, gently and firmly put a stop to it.

By learning to say "no" when necessary you make more time to say "yes" for those tasks that accelerate your career.

If you are fully overloaded and your saying "no" doesn't get relief, perhaps it's time to look for a more accommodating environment.

Ramon Greenwood may be contacted at

Ramon Greenwood, Senior Career Counselor, Common Sense At Work, is a former Senior Vice President of American Express. To subscriber to his f*ee semi-monthly newsletter and blog please go to


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