Learning when to say no

I’ve learned a lot since I started to get involved in extracurricular activities in high school, volunteer and leadership opportunities during university, as well as full-time and part-time jobs that I have taken the last few years, along with the roles that I have taken on here in Mongolia.

Reflecting on these experiences, I think that the most important thing that I have learned is when to say “no” to something or someone. When I was younger, I always felt bad about saying no – I didn’t want to be the person that stood in the way of something, I didn’t want to be perceived as someone who held the team back. At the same time, however, I found it frustrating whenever I willed myself to agree to something I felt was a bad idea or just was not comfortable with.

After some reflection on this matter, I found that there were four situations that I would find myself questioning a decision, or saying no to a decision:

  1. It is wrong. Some people think that it is okay to operate in an ethical grey area, or to break rules that were put in place for a reason. I usually feel uncomfortable with taking decisions that are borderline unethical or skirt/bend the rules, especially when there is a risk for others to be negatively affected. I usually start questioning a proposed action or decision when I start sensing that something is wrong.
  2. Changing expectations. This is tricky, simply because I have found that there are times when I had to change expectations in order to make something work, which is fine. But there are limits to when expectations can be changed. When I am faced with a decision that requires me to change my expectations, I always try to think about both the positive and negative effects of such a decision. If I or someone else is severely negatively affected by a required change of expectations, especially when I feel as though I or someone else has been misled, I’m often inclined to say no.
  3. Time. I have always had an extremely busy schedule. I value my time, and I like to be able to achieve both my goals inside and outside of work. I like to keep work during work hours because I like to focus on work during the business day. Outside of business hours, I like to focus on other things. When I’m asked to do work on something outside of working hours, I always ask myself if it is necessary for me to work on it outside of working hours in order for me to achieve my work goals, or if I can block off time during working hours the next day to focus on it. This includes meetings. I don’t do this because I am selfish with my time, I do it because I want to make sure that I work on things that I am supposed to work on during the allotted time that has been given to me – I don’t want to put things off.
  4. When someone else should be doing the work. While I want to make sure that I contribute to the team, I also want to make sure that others do their share as well. I’m always happy to help my teammates out, but I don’t want to be taken advantage of and be left doing everything.

I used to think that saying no would lead others to see think of me as selfish. But from my point of view, saying no is a way for me to consider other options and ways of doing things with my co-workers.

And from a more personal point of view, it is a way for me to stand up for myself as well. At the end of the day, if you don’t know when and how to say no, people will walk all over you. Who will stand up for you, if not yourself?

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