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Bruzzese: Sometimes, saying ‘no’ can help save your job

“No.”

That’s probably a word you don’t think of using very often at work these days. With the jobless rate hitting 7.6 percent, you may fear that saying “no” could very well make you one of those unfortunate people currently looking for a paycheck. But psychologists contend that learning to say “no” may be even more vital these days.

“When you’re scared about being the next one to be laid off, all kinds of dysfunctional things start to happen,” says Pat Pearson, a Newport Beach, Calif.-based clinical psychotherapist. “You start getting more paranoid, you do your work less well, and you start feeling as if you can’t say ‘no.’ So you take on anything they throw at you.”

But the problem, Pearson says, is that such a move just makes a career “more and more dysfunctional.”

“You have to decide: Are you going to have a healthy work environment or not?”

Paula Bloom, an Atlanta-based clinical psychologist, says it’s important to evaluate what will happen if you say “no” to a request at work.

“Is it really true that you’re going to lose your gig, or are you getting caught up in the general neuroses (about job loss)? You have to ask yourself: ‘Is it true? Is it possible?’ ” Bloom says. “You’ve got to really be honest with yourself about what could happen.”

Both Pearson and Bloom stress that the emotional and physical cost of never saying “no” – even in this stressful job market – can take a real toll on workers.

“If you don’t feel good about what you’re taking on, then you become negative and angry, and then you’re not only hurting yourself, you’re hurting the company because you’re not going to be as productive,” Pearson says. “If you are doing things you don’t want to do, then you’re going to pay a price with your health. You’re going to get sick more often, and have a high stress level.”

Bloom says that every worker must realize they only have so much emotional capital to expend every day, and pushing the limits may cost them the very thing they’re hoping to protect.

“If there is too great an emotional cost, then you will become resentful and unpleasant, and not nice to be around. And people who are a pain in the butt are often the ones who are let go,” Bloom says.

But how do you say “no” without being considered a poor team player or labeled with some other negative moniker at work? Both Bloom and Pearson says it’s a matter of understanding your boundaries and then being prepared to make the “no” sound positive. They advise:

• Be willing to ask for what you need. “Maybe you’ve been asked to work late, and you can agree to it, “except for on Thursdays, when you need to get home on time because your kids have soccer,” says Pearson, author of “Stop Self Sabotage” (McGraw-Hill, $16.95). “You have to decide how much you can live with, and what you can’t do without.”

• Taking a deep breath. “Don’t freak out when someone makes a request. Just say, ‘I would love to be able to help you out, but it won’t work today. If you could give me a few days notice next time, I might be able to do it.’ “Adds Pearson: “Act thoughtful and say something like, ‘Let me see what I can do.’ It gives you time to think about it and then make a decision when you’re not under pressure.”

• Living with integrity. “If you’re screwing around on the Internet for an hour every day or faking your time card, then you’ll try to compensate for your guilt and say ‘yes’ to everything. If you live with integrity, you’ll be able to say ‘no’ and not feel guilty,” Bloom says.

• Understanding the difference between “can’t” and “don’t want to.” Bloom says that even when the boss makes a request, you can say “no” if you’ve made an honest assessment of your workload. “You can always say, ‘I’d like to do that, but can you help me figure out the priority of these nine other things I have to do?’ Put the issue back on the boss.”

Anita Bruzzese is author of “45 Things You Do That Drive Your Boss Crazy…and How to Avoid Them” (www.45things.com). Write to her c/o: Business Editor, Gannett News Service, 7950 Jones Branch Dr., McLean, VA 22107. For a reply, include a SASE.

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