Say yes to saying no

By Benjamin Thomas

Business Technology Analyst | Consulting

Have you ever taken a leadership or communication course? If so, then you probably understand the value of saying yes. If not, let me explain it to you. Saying yes signals determination, a willingness to learn and a desire to impress. But when does saying yes go too far? Well that all depends on the business you’re in.

Consulting is the epitome of time management. You’ll begin to realize that nothing revolves around you; rather, you must revolve around the wants and needs of others. During my first day working on a project, my team was well into the planning phase so I spent 16 hours just reading to catch up on everything they had already done. I was overwhelmed and said yes to everything that was asked of me, until I could feel an impending burnout. I knew things couldn’t continue like this, so I learned how to say “no”.

To pull off your first “no,” you need to be acquainted with the four “knows”:

1. Know your company

Every firm expects different things from their employees. Some just want nine-to-fivers, others are looking for creativity. Deloitte is looking for self-starters that are willing to challenge themselves on a daily basis but who will also enjoy it in the process.

2. Know your work

It’s rare to come onto a project with an understanding of everything that’s going on. More often than not, I’ve seen consultants walk into a meeting knowing no one (including their own team!), dominate the room, and then leave. That is because they’re comfortable with ambiguity. They know their strengths and leverage them wherever they are.

3.   Know your manager

A new manager means a new style. Some prefer to micromanage while others will give you high level requirements and allow you to use your own discretion. Whatever your manager’s style may be, you need to make sure you mesh with them and meet their needs. Even if you need to say no, always follow up with an offer to help them out later. You want to build bridges, not burn them.

4.  Know yourself

This is the most important “know” of all. Although you may be driven enough to handle everything that comes your way, it’s not a sustainable practice to consistently say yes to increasing workloads. The balance comes in tackling what you’re well versed in and then delving into unknown territories to foster growth. Don’t ever promise something that you can’t deliver. Rather, agree to the work that is asked of you and then exceed expectations.

There’s no concrete formula to balancing work in the consulting world but this is my approach on trying to stay sane. There will be a lot of different people steering you in different directions but just try to be self-aware and you’ll have no problem persevering. 


Benjamin is a recent graduate from the Richard Ivey Business School majoring in Strategy and Finance. He is currently a Business Technology Analyst at our Toronto Practice.

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