Why “No” is Not a Four-Letter Word

There is one word that tends to be taboo in the workplace. Many people consider it to be such a bad word at work that they are afraid to use it. Due to the foreboding surrounding it, sometimes it is even less acceptable to use than the list of four-letter swear words we maintain in our dictionary.

But NO is not a four-letter word. And NO is not a word we should be afraid to use. At least, not all the time. Sometimes, NO is necessary.


Sometimes, we are afraid to say NO because we don’t know what the consequences might be. Fear of consequences is often the underlying reason we say YES at work, even when we want to say NO.

Here are a few other reasons we struggle to say NO:

  • We don’t want to disappoint a boss or a client.
  • We want to be team players.
  • We don’t have the time, but we want to say yes.
  • We aren’t the right person for the job, but we want to help.
  • We are conflict avoiders.
  • We are people-pleasers.
  • We haven’t had enough time to process the information.

My most significant area of struggle when saying NO is when people ask me for help. I enjoy helping people. When someone asks for help, I don’t want to tell them NO because helping them fulfills me. But I can’t always tell them yes. I have tried that, over-committed, and ended up dropping the ball anyway.

Apart from that one area, I have said YES because I wanted to feel like a team member. I have said YES because I didn’t want to disappoint a boss (and clients). I have said YES because I was uncertain of the consequences of saying NO.

And each of those times, when I said YES instead of saying NO, I was miserable.


Eventually, I got tired of being stressed and miserable. I decided to start saying NO when the answer should be NO. I discovered that when I said NO, it was never as bad as I thought. Every time I said NO, I became more comfortable saying it. I gained confidence seeing the positive results that came about.

And that’s the key. If you struggle saying NO, the best tip to gain greater confidence to say NO, is just to start saying “NO.” Practice! And you will begin to get more comfortable with it.

Start small to gain confidence. Work your way up until you are saying NO to everything you need to be saying NO towards. The more you practice, and the more you say it, the better at it you will become, and the less likely you will cause conflict by saying NO.

Here is an article from Harvard Business Review with excellent tips on saying NO without making enemies. It’s beneficial!


You should absolutely say NO if someone asks you to do something that is against your morals and values. This is one struggle that I have not had. Even if it led to me getting fired, I would say NO in these situations. I would rather my character still be intact.

To help you learn to grow more comfortable saying “NO” at work, Forbes put together this great article from 14 experts providing 14 examples of when you should say NO and feel comfortable doing so.

I hope it helps!