How Saying “No” Turned Out To Be My Biggest Superpower At Work 


I had the most difficult time saying “No” for the longest time. So, I said yes to everything that came my way (even when I didn’t want to do it) with a benevolent smile. Somehow I associated the word “No” with rudeness and saying “Yes” seemed to be the most gracious thing to do as a good girl and woman.

I won’t deny that saying “Yes” helped me. It made me seem as likable, dependable, and successful at school, workplace and home.

Saying “Yes” Felt Like A Heavy Cross

But, why did saying yes and being successful not make me feel like a happy, empowered woman, then?  

The more I said “yes” to others and everything that came my way, I found my boundaries blurring and it affected everything in my life—From my purpose to connections to health. 

Then I asked myself: Was I really successful? 

When I looked around, I saw many seemingly successful women on the surface, struggling to make ends meet at home and workplace. Society baits women with titles like superwoman at work and domestic goddess at home, as we pile on more work like the proverbial donkey. However, it seemed like our (women’s) work is unimportant and invisible even if we slog 24*7 at work or home. 

The more I reflected on my purpose and vision for my life, the more saying yes to everything and everyone without thought seemed like an obstacle. I wanted to stop playing the martyr at work and home. 

Saying no seemed to be the only way out.

 “Loving yourself isn’t vanity. It’s sanity.” 

– André Gide

Top 3 Ways To Say No Without Guilt And Serious Repercussions

Men have the privilege of saying no with no major repercussions in their personal and professional life. As a woman, saying no requires us to be cautious in our approach as there could be potential negative implications – being called arrogant, difficult to work with, the drama queen who throws tantrums, or unprofessional. 

Here are some steps to help you ease into saying no confidently to people while getting their support. 

1. Rethink “No”

Saying no in a world that’s wired to believe that women are born nurturers and helpers, but not leaders, can be tricky. But it’s doable with tact and patience.

First, the bigger question we should ask ourselves is: 

Why should we women be obligated to say yes all the time at home and work? 

There’s really no good reason. Once I started seeing reality for what it was and its conditioned biases, I ditched all guilt. I didn’t need anyone’s permission or feel obligated to say yes anymore. 

Instead of looking at “No” with a negative connotation, shift your perspective of “No” with this new positive connotation and affirmation: 

No means “Nourish Oneself.”

This new perspective of “No” needs to be shared with everyone we work with. Saying no means we respect everyone’s time and energy. By saying no and putting up boundaries, we actually give our best to our clients and the organisation. 

There’s no shame in asking and seeking equality and balance at the workplace. If saying yes is acceptable, so should saying no too. Progressive organisations and managers will understand and appreciate the forthrightness and right intention of saying no. Saying no doesn’t mean you’re trying to escape work, but seeking to deliver quality work that will benefit the organisation and industry.

“If you feel “burnout” setting in, if you feel demoralised and exhausted, it is best, for the sake of everyone, to withdraw and restore yourself. The point is to have a long-term perspective.”

— Dalai Lama XIV

2. Say No Respectfully, Firmly, And Fully

Earlier, what stopped me from saying no was the fear of losing relationships and work opportunities. I would always swap the word “no” with other people-pleasing phrases such as “okay”, “sure”, or “I suppose”. 

It was Anne Lamott, author of “Bird by Bird” whose quote enlightened me and strengthened my resolve to say no confidently. She said, 

“No is a complete sentence. It’s given me this tremendous sense of power. I’m a little bit drunk on it.” – Anne Lamott

So, I started saying no with complete conviction and in full power by taking the following actions.

  • Make a list of the reasons you’re saying yes. Vow to say no unless you have valid reasons for saying yes, and were not coerced into saying yes because it’s expected of you.
  • Say no after making an informed decision. Gather all the facts first and calculate how much time and effort you’ll need to put in for the request. Who is making this offer? If it’s coming from someone at the top of a very hierarchical organisation, you may not even have the option of saying no. But if you must do so, approach it carefully to avoid serious consequences. 
  • Have clear rules for “Yes” and “No”. If you have gathered all the information, you can say no immediately. You just need to be respectful and firm while saying so. But for saying “Yes”, buy some time, at least 24 years before taking the final decision. It’ll give you time to reassess the work on your plate, and if you can accommodate more commitments. Don’t underestimate the non-monetary costs, be it time, effort, and money. 
  • Get closure, i.e. see through your no from start to finish. Saying no is pointless unless it’s accepted by the other party as well. It’s not seeking their permission as much as closure. Seeking closure also ensures that there are no negative repercussions of saying no, especially to a superior or someone who holds power.
  • Offer alternative solutions. You can be honest about your situation when saying no and suggest alternative solutions. Or you could suggest delegating your work to other team members so you could fulfil their request if the work is important for both of you.

3. Take Your Support Group Into Confidence

One startling discovery I made this year is how easily people supported me despite saying no to them. Whether it was putting up boundaries with certain people or declining their requests, most people understood why I was doing what I was doing and respected it. I regretted why I didn’t say no earlier. 

Charity begins at home. Saying no is paying charity to yourself. 

I understand the work we do in our homes is not exactly counted as “work” even if it’s time-consuming and backbreaking. But this is where the root problem lies. If we can start saying no in our homes, we’ll get more confident saying it at the workplace. 

It’s important to convey that everyone can share the workload more at home. So, while I put in my fair share of work at home, I started leaving work for others to do as well. I still distinctly remember the look of the elders in my joint family home when I first said no or ignored some of their requests for the cause of my well-being. 

I took my husband into confidence and told him that these sacrificial expectations were affecting me and my health. I told him I would no longer be doing many things around home, even for him. When I started defining what was fair, acceptable, and comfortable work for me at home, I started experiencing success in the workplace, too. 

If I had the support of my husband at home, I sought the support of some of my mentors at the workplace who had my best interests. I discussed with my boss and mentor about taking on more leadership roles and how I needed his support when I’d say no. Saying no helped me get better at garnering support from the right people and the art of delegation. 

“Women are leaders everywhere you look—from the CEO who runs a Fortune 500 company to the housewife who raises her children and heads her household. Our country was built by strong women, and we will continue to break down walls and defy stereotypes.”

– Nancy Pelosi

Saying No Is A Revolutionary Act

Saying no is a revolutionary act because we show our authentic selves. We can get more comfortable saying no when we remind ourselves regularly of our vision and purpose.

Being authentic will also attract the right tribe of supporters to you. So, practice saying no to someone once a day, week, month, and all year long. It’s your superpower that’ll help redirect your energies to focus on what’s truly important.

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Tina Sequeira
Tina Sequeira is a marketer and moonlighting writer. She is passionate about tech, creativity, and social justice—dabbling in and writing about the same.

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