, ,

Is being a “Yes”-Person hurting your career?

The thing is, I really like saying yes. I like new things, projects, plans, getting people together and doing something, trying something, even when it’s corny or stupid. I am not good at saying no. And I do not get along with people who say no. No is for wimps. No is to live small and embittered, cherishing the opportunities you missed because they might have sent the wrong message.

– Dave Eggers

The above is a slightly edited version of my all-time favorite quote by Dave Eggers when asked about whether or not he was worried about coming across as a sellout. I believe strongly in the sentiment of this quote. If I have the time and the ability, I will almost always be a yes-person, whether in the office or if asked to go on a night out. I’m not afraid to politely decline if I would be delaying my own responsibilities to do so, or neglecting a prior commitment. I just often don’t think I’m too busy to say yes.

But many career strategists will speak of the dangers of always being a yes-person. Always saying yes can make you seem like a doormat and actually decrease your chances of having a successful career, they say. I’ve seen the dangers of saying yes at the wrong time, so I do my best not to do it. I’ve seen it both from college students always up to go out (Party tonight, bro!) and adults living in the office (Gotta be up early for my 5-9, that’s still 8 hours of sleep, right?). I’m neither.

Still, am I too much of a yes-person? I don’t think so, but what do you think? At what point is it appropriate to be a no-person? Should we ever say no just to prove a point, even if the project sounds interesting or we have nothing else to do?

Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply

Corey McCarren

Any chance you could elaborate a little bit? When is it appropriate to say no to prove a point? At what point can you tell that you’ve become a doormat?

Andy Gravatt

Thanks for asking a great question, Corey. I couldn’t help making the joke. That’s probably the number one issue for me is “Is it alright to make everything into a joke?” Quickly followed by “Is it a problem to be a yes-man”.

Your post is all about having a positive attitude when asked to do something and I don’t see any problem with that career-wise. I don’t see how you can be an employee without giving a very high percentage of “yeses” to those above you in the management chain, especially your supervisor. As a supervisor I want a person who will say “yes” to my requests unless they can’t accomplish the work. There’s nothing worst than expecting an employee to do something and then finding out at the due date they didn’t know how or just didn’t have time to accomplish what you asked.

There is a different type of “yes-person” who gives assent to things that they really agree with. This can be a career killer. If I ask an employee for their opinion on something, I really want their opinion. I don’t want them to try and tell me what I want the hear, because I already know what I want to hear. For example, If I tell my department that we should put all our research money into building a car that runs on coffee, I want someone to figure out that coffee costs more per gallon than gasoline and this is probably a dumb idea. At this point, somebody better be smart enough to say “no” to this request. This will further both of our careers.

Dorothy Ramienski Amatucci

I think “always” and “never” are very dangerous words when it comes to behaviors. I try to avoid “always” doing something or “never” doing something. I think getting into the habit of saying yes might not be a bad thing, but if you are always doing it, you run the risk of burning out. No one can be on all the time — and you do need to allow yourself to rest, whether it be in a professional or personal setting.

Corey McCarren

Andy- I like the point about how it’s important to say no if the project really is too much. I think that’s the hardest part. Sometimes there’s something you really would like to help out on, because maybe it would make you look good to management or it’s enjoyable, but you have to be mature about it and realize that maybe you just can’t do it.

Dorothy – Yeah, I always never try to use those two words. But really, it’s definitely not good to burn out. I think there is a time and a place for temporarily pushing yourself and having to be “on” all the time, but not long term. For instance if you’re in crisis management communications, Tiger Woods wife might just take a golf club to his car and you have to get up out of bed at 1 AM to figure out what next. I don’t think anyone should stay on that career path forever, but I could imagine it’s thrilling to be in crisis management for a short while, and it’s actually something I’d like to be into one day.

Candace Riddle

I like Andy’s response about the car running on coffee.

Personally, I am a “yes” girl. However, I must say, the older I get, the more hesitant I am to say yes. In my early twenties I was all about doing anything for anybody (work) for free, just for the opportunity…or the opportunities that may have came (usually they never did…at least not in corporate America).

Saying yes to things that I freelanced at (e.g. modeling) turned into a job as a wedding videographer that sustained me through my early twenties, so that was a good yes. However, when I decided to move into work in Finance and Law (a more professional corporate setting), I found that saying yes literally translated into “sure I’ll do the work that you don’t want to do and not get paid for it”…which in turn usually hurt performance on the project that I had been hired to do because I was trying to do too much.

Now, as I’m closing in on 30 (OH NO), I’ve learned to say no to projects that are too much to handle on top of what I’m already doing. I’ve also had to learn that part of being a good leader, is learning how to delegate (and then to let go of what you delegated).

This is not to say that I won’t say yes when I have the bandwidth to pick up for someone else. The hard part is when that other person learns to depend on you and gets frustrated when you finally have to say no again. How do you deal with that??

Andrew Krzmarzick

In my 20s, I was a “yes” guy – both on the job and in my volunteer activities. Then I married someone who is really good at setting boundaries (i.e. saying “no”). I was involved in a lot of cool things, but one of the first things she said was, “‘We’ are now important than ‘me’. So I cut a couple of the activities – hard decisions. But I learned that I was able to (a) decide what was really important to me and (b) give more and better energy to the things that remained. The older I get, the more I appreciate her wisdom.

I think it all comes back to the “big rocks” concept in Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. You can say “yes”to 80% of the things…but are you doing what’s most important to you or your employer? Or are you just busy / spinning your wheels? I’ve also found that when I set boundaries (I am off work at 6p sharp – “no” to any more work), I am more focused and productive – can’t do everything, so need to do the vital.

Corey McCarren

I will admit that I’m excited about not having a part-time and not feeling the need to be networking all of the time anymore, largely because it’s killing my running lol. I’ve always been afraid to be content with anything, so I think that’s part of it for me.

Dannielle Blumenthal

Branding is about making a promise that you can keep consistently. Personal branding in a career setting is the same thing. I think the idea is to understand (or negotiate) what the promise is in the first place, then keep it. It’s not something you do overtly (like “I write” or “I design”) but something you do implicitly (like “I’m the one you can call in a crisis” or “I’m an idea person”). Stay away from vendor-like promises and go a level higher. You already do this without thinking about it, it’s just a matter of changing the way you think. Hope this makes sense.