Why saying ‘no’ will boost your career
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Billionaire Warren Buffett says the very successful say 'no' to almost everything. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Famous billionaire US investor Warren Buffett once said, “The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything.”

Wouldn’t it be a relief to feel confident enough to simply say ‘no’ when someone asks you to take on yet another task or commit to another event? Often, we do just the opposite, for fear of hurting our reputations, seeming difficult or damaging our career prospects.

Of course, there are also times when saying agreeing is critical. After all, Buffett didn’t advise saying vetoing everything. So how can you say ‘no’ gracefully and when is it important to say ‘yes’ with enthusiasm? And is ‘no’ really code for ‘not now’ sometimes?

Several LinkedIn Influencers weighed in this week. Here’s what two of them had to say.

 Adam Grant, Wharton School professor, author of Give and Take

“If you want something done, ask a busy person. The old saying rings true, but it also spells doom for that busy person,” wrote Grant in his post 8 Ways to Say No Without Hurting Your Image. “When you develop a reputation for being responsive and generous, an ever-expanding mountain of requests will come your way.”

And it can feel like every ‘no’ is a “missed opportunity to make a difference and build a relationship,” wrote Grant. “And if it comes across the wrong way to the wrong person, it’s also a surefire way to brand yourself as selfish and rude.”

But, “saying no frees you up to say yes when it matters most,” he wrote. So, how do you say ‘no’ without damaging your reputation? Grant offers eight solutions he’s tried himself — and their pros and cons. Among them:

The deferral. I’m swamped right now, but feel free to follow up.” Of course, this one has its downsides, he wrote. “This initial filter provided clues about who cared the most about connecting with me.” But, Grant wrote, this option can unwittingly reward aggressive or single-minded people, “stalkers” who will do whatever it takes to get what they need from you.

“The batch. Others have posed the same question, so let’s chat together.” Grant uses Google Hangouts to meet with people who want similar information or who have shared reasons to talk to him. “I... found that it helped people create a community around common interests. It also served as a low-commitment first encounter for me to gauge how helpful I could be in subsequent interactions.”

“The introduction. When I wasn’t in a position to help, I sometimes knew people who could... I facilitated the connection,” wrote Grant. “This was a huge time-saver and often proved far more helpful than the other approaches.” But, he cautioned, “there’s one major downside: [introductions] can be an imposition on the person who’s being enlisted to help.”

His solution: “I started checking with my colleagues first to see if they were comfortable with an introduction,” wrote Grant. “That way, I didn’t punish the most generous givers by overloading them with requests — and it was less likely to damage our relationship or my reputation.”

Linda Descano, managing director and head of content & social at Citi

Descano turned to other successful women for their advice on saying ‘yes’ and other career tips in her post Say Yes + Other Tips for Accelerating Your Career. Among the wisdom, she found some insight on when it makes sense to do something — even if it’s a big task to take on.

“I would encourage my younger self to say ‘yes’ to new challenges, often and easily,” advised Liz Kaplow, president and CEO of Kaplow PR who described a daunting proposal in the early days of the Internet. Other firms had more experience and know-how, but she decided to say yes to the request for a proposal. Her firm got the job. “Every time I’ve pushed myself to take on something I haven’t done before it has paid off…. Say ‘yes’, be resourceful and tackle something new: the professional and personal rewards are immeasurable.”

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