So why do so many of us struggle with it?
The official ranking systems aren’t the only factor. In an essay published by the American Psychological Association, Rebecca Clay cites Dr. Mary McKinney, explaining that if you are a woman or a person of color, you may have an even harder time saying no. When white men say no, they are viewed as assertive. Assertiveness is considered a desirable trait! However, when a woman or a person of color says no, they are often deemed aggressive instead of assertive. Not so desirable. And definitely not fair.
So is it just about hierarchy, then?
That means, if you are a particularly conflict-avoidant personality, you may have a harder time saying no. But ask yourself: Why is saying no likely to create a conflict? Is that the reality, or just a perception?
We can’t do everything for everyone.
So, what do we do about it?
Don’t contribute to the problem.
In fact, ask yourself, “why am I asking this person in particular?” Are you asking because you are aware of their technical skills to do the job well? Good. Go ahead and ask, but manage your expectations and accept if the answer is no. Are you asking because you think they have extra time? You may be wrong! Or are you asking because you simply expect they are the most likely to say yes? If it’s the latter, ask yourself where that perception comes from. You may need to rethink that strategy.
How to say NO.
You may not need to answer right away. Simply say “let me get back to you.” Take some time to weigh the pros and cons, and if the answer is no, you can strategize how to say it.
Remember that you won’t impress if you always say yes. You may be trying to impress the boss by taking on a lot of projects, but will you be able to do all of them well? Don’t overdo it.