On My Mind / Essays On Success

Saying no can save your career

My friend Mavis and I were sitting in a local cafe and I was talking about a new job my boss had offered me. The project I had been working on was complete and I planned on starting my own coaching business.

Mavis was listening as I described with dread what it would mean for me to take this job. It would rob me of the independence I so longed for, kill my enthusiasm and lust for learning, sap my time and energy, keep me from my dreams ... Mavis interrupted my litany with a simple statement that stopped me in my tracks.

"You know Jeanine, you can say no."

Yes, of course. The minute the words were articulated, it seemed so obvious. Saying no was the right answer for me. Immediately I felt relief. My body relaxed, my breath deepened and I smiled. I can say no.

And I did.

Six months later I was sitting under the gazebo in my back yard, which became my outdoor office. I put the finishing touches on my coaching website. I had signed up a new client earlier that morning and completed the final draft of my business portfolio for Cogan Coaching.

At lunch time, I packed up and went for an hour-long walk along the creek. Under the canopy of tall poplar trees I brainstormed ideas on new avenues for marketing. Enjoying nature in the middle of the day fed my spirit and nourished my creativity. Ah, this is the way to work!

The consequences of me saying no to this job were huge. In saying no to something I did not want, I was saying yes to a dream of starting my own coaching business. That is the hidden treasure of saying no -- you are really saying yes to something else, something that matters to you. In these instances, no is a gift that you give yourself.

Here is another example. A client came to me for career coaching. After weeks of working together, a noticeable pattern emerged. Though very intelligent and resourceful, she didn't complete her action steps and always had excuses. I had a hunch then that Linda (not her real name) was stuck in a significant way on something else -- something big that we had not yet named.

I asked: "Linda, where is it that you are really stuck? What in your life do you need to say no to?" She answered without hesitation. "I need to get out of this marriage!"

Turns out that Linda had wanted a divorce from her husband for years. She even discussed it with him and he agreed their marriage was over, yet they decided to stay together until their son graduated from high school. The downside of this plan, however, was that Linda was stuck -- not just in her relationship but in all areas of her life. She could not move forward.

With this realization, she determined that she needed to say no to this marriage now. The coaching shifted and she took steps to leave her husband. For the first time in our coaching, she actually completed each action step. With each completion I could see her sense of confidence and dignity grow. She was talking with more determination and more lightness.

Linda was divorced a year later and lived in her dream home. In our coaching, I had asked, "What would your ideal home look like?" She described a place where she had plenty of her own space, was surrounded by nature and could go on daily walks. She had that now. This is what Linda was saying yes to. She was also saying yes to her confidence, dignity, and career.

A few months later, Linda called me for career coaching again and this time she was able to focus on those goals. She now has a full time job that she loves.

Linda and I are not anomalies.

Repeatedly I observe how people are unhappy, create chaos or break trust because of their inability to say no. There are no's that have big impact and consequences, as with these two examples. Yet more common are the many needed little no's that go unspoken each day.

Contrary to our beliefs about saying no (we tend to confuse the word no with being mean), we actually risk compromising our reputations if we cannot say no when we should. If you say yes when asked to join in on another work project even though you have no time to add anything else to your plate, you invariably let people down.

Because you are unable to do the job well, you make last-minute excuses, cannot deliver on time, or compromise other projects, time with your family or important personal activities (whatever happened to leisure?). And notice all the opportunity for stress. The increased stress level impacts your coworkers, your family, and yourself (no wonder stress-related ailments are at an all time high). No one wins!

So common is this phenomenon that William Ury, one of the authors of "Getting To Yes," wrote a book years later called "The Power of a Positive No: Save the Deal, Save the Relationship, and Still Say No."  I recommend this book, as he emphasizes how to say no in a way that meets your needs and tends to the relationship at the same time.

What in your life right now, career or otherwise, do you need to say no to? And in doing so, what are you saying yes to? Write about it for five minutes every day for three days. Now do it. Say this kind of no -- once this week. And notice what happens. What did you say yes to?

WARNING: If this is new to you, then saying no will feel uncomfortable. That doesn't mean you should not do it. The point of saying a no (that is really a yes to something else) is not about staying comfortable; it is about being real.

If you could use more support in saying NO! check out:

-- "The Power of a Positive No: Save the Deal, Save the Relationship, and Still Say No," by William Ury

-- "How to Say No Without Feeling Guilty," by Patti Breitman and Connie Hatch

-- "No! How one Simple Word Can Transform Your Life," by Jana Kemp



Jeanine Cogan

 |  August 26, 2010; 12:00 AM ET  |  Category:  Personal essays Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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