Say ‘yes’ to saying ‘no’

By Dawn Wotapka

In the workplace, saying "no" is just as important as saying "yes." It is a skill critical to career success. While many employees, particularly new ones, want to prove themselves professionally, taking on too much can actually lead to subpar work and even exhaustion, burnout, or resentment toward others, said Tonya Moffitt, CPA, managing partner of Merina+Co., an accounting and advisory firm in Tualatin, Ore., who will be speaking on the topic of protecting your time at the AICPA & CIMA Women's Global Leadership Summit.

Here's her advice for turning down requests for your time while still shining to your employer:

Understand that time is valuable. It is important to recognize that time is limited, both personally and professionally. When you take on a new project or assignment, you're actually saying "no" to something else in your life, Moffitt said. It is up to you to decide what ranks where in your life.

"I always use the rule of thumb that time is our most valuable gift to give," she said. "Therefore, when I say 'no,' I am saying 'yes' to spending more time with my husband, kids, family, and friends."

Practice. Moffitt suggests that people who aren't comfortable with saying "no" practice actually saying it. "You can say it to yourself in front of the mirror or to a pet or to some object, then you can practice saying it to other people you feel comfortable with," she suggested.

Then, start declining smaller events in your personal life. "The more you practice saying 'no,' the easier it is going to be to start saying no to bigger and harder things," said Moffitt, who also volunteers for Forward Stride, an equine therapy center in Oregon.

Assess your commitments. When someone asks you for something, don't say "yes" or "no" immediately. Ask for time to consider it. You can say something like, "Can I get back to you after I check my current commitments?" Moffitt said. Or, when working with a leader or supervisor, you can also add: "I want to make sure I do not take on too many commitments and jeopardize my existing commitments."

One idea Moffitt suggests is to keep track of how much time each of your commitments requires with an Excel file. Hers includes clients, project names, and the estimated number of hours needed to complete each one, giving her an instant analysis of how much is on her plate.

Offer alternatives. If you decide you cannot say "yes," you can still demonstrate commitment by offering workable alternatives. For instance, you could recommend someone else who can handle the request, or ask about ways you can reprioritize current projects and assignments so that you can take on the new task.

Don't apologize. If you do turn someone or something down, don't feel guilty. "If you say 'no,' it's perfectly acceptable, and you don't need to apologize for that," Moffitt said. "It's your life."

By learning to say "no," you'll be able to say "yes" to more things that matter, Moffitt pointed out. "We have a tendency to want to do everything, and we can't do everything," she said. "We need to value our time."

Join hundreds of accounting and finance professionals committed to creating an inclusive and equal profession at the 2021 AICPA & CIMA Women's Global Leadership Summit, held live online and in Dallas Nov. 3–5.

Dawn Wotapka is a freelance writer based in Georgia. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien, a JofA senior editor, at


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