Why say NO!

By: Dantia Richards

Many professionals preaching positive psychology, have over the years made saying “no” out as a wanton reaction.
“You are not a team player”
“You are lazy.”
“You don’t want to expand your skill-set.”
“You are a goodie-two-shoes.”
“You are a spoilsport.”
“You are a party pooper.”
…and these are some of the nicer ones.

Today, many employees in corporate companies suffer disciplinary action for saying “no”. Many people lose their jobs and friends because of saying “no” – but what if saying “no” is sometimes the most ethical thing to do?

Being ethical means balancing what is good for the self with what is good for others. You would maybe ask me how could saying “no” be an ethical response – especially in the workplace?

In my line of work, I have seen many employees suffer because of always saying “yes”. They say “yes” to such an extent that they overcommit themselves; neglect their families, neglect their health, and deliver half-hearted work. They end up resigning from organisations due to work pressure or are admitted to mental institutions with stress-related causes.

How is this good for either of the parties? Employees suffer because they think they are not allowed to say “no” or wants to impress their employers by always being willing to take on additional responsibilities – and the employer suffers because client deliverables are of sub-standard quality and little value is added to the final service or product delivered to the client.

A different perspective might be an employee saying “yes” for additional tasks because other employees in their organisation fail to take responsibility for their workload. These remain below the radar. They do only the necessary to come by. They fail to plan. They fail to take ownership. They fail to be appreciative of their ability to work, the work itself and has little or no pride in the contribution they can make towards their personal growth as well as the growth of their organisation. They in themselves act unethically and egotistically.

By saying “yes” in this instance, you think you might be helping your colleague, but you are not doing anyone any favours. You are once again over-committing yourself, supporting your colleague in their procrastination and lack of motivation – and prevent them from taking responsibility for their actions – or lack thereof. The outcome of your decision will remain the same. There will be no good for anyone involved.

Yes, we all have our KPIs and work-related responsibilities, and please do not think I am advocating a culture of reluctance to support and assist our colleagues whenever there is a need. I am merely advising you to take cognisance of, and encourage a culture of responsible and ethical decision-making on a very personal level. A culture of mindful consideration for the good of the self and the other.

We are not solely responsible for making the wheels on the bus go round. We are also not responsible to be the safety net for employees who are not rightfully pulling their weight. If saying “no” is the most ethical decision you can make in any given circumstance, then say “no”. Not because you want to be spiteful or you are not in the mood, but because you have weighed the positives and negatives – and thoroughly considered the most ethical outcome of the decision you are about to make.

A friend recently told me about his fifteen-year-old friendship that came to an end, due to his resistance to participate in social gatherings during lock-down. COVID has taught us many things, amongst others, the thorough reflection of how your actions might influence the circumstances of the person next to you. Would you rather say “yes” to attend a social gathering with the hope to save a friendship, or say “no” to this interaction to prevent transferring or contracting a virus that might end you, one of your dear family members, or a friend’s life?

Despite the legal perspective where one was required to say “no”, even more so, should your main thinking pattern not revolve around the ethical outcome of your decision? Being an ethical friend, versus possibly attending a funeral.

Nobody asked us to change the world. Each of us can, however, start by thinking and acting in the best interest of ourselves and of others. That – is the right thing to do – even if means saying “no” to our colleagues or friend at times.



Dantia Richards is the Company Secretary of The Ethics Institute and a Certified Director with the Institute of Directors, Southern Africa.