The Importance of Saying No

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Hey there! In this post, I want to chat about something that doesn’t get enough airtime in the software engineering world: the importance of saying “no.” It might sound simple, but it’s one of those skills that can make a huge difference in your career and your team’s success.

Let me paint a picture for you. Imagine it’s a typical Monday morning. Your inbox is overflowing, your Slack is buzzing, and you’ve got back-to-back meetings lined up. Amidst this chaos, here comes another request landing on your desk. It’s an exciting idea, sure, but deep down, you know your team is already stretched thin. What do you do? Do you add this to your team’s already overflowing plate, or do you take a stand and say that dreaded two-letter word: “no”?

I’ve been there, and let me tell you, learning to say no was a game-changer for me. It wasn’t easy at first – nobody wants to be the bearer of bad news or miss out on exciting opportunities. But with time, I realised that saying no, when necessary, isn’t just about rejecting something; it’s about protecting your team’s time, maintaining focus on current projects, and ensuring the quality of your work doesn’t slip.

In this post, I’m going to dive into why saying no is crucial, how to do it effectively, and when it actually makes sense to say yes. So grab your coffee, and let’s get into it!

Why saying no is a big deal

Saying no might feel like you’re turning down opportunities or letting people down. But in reality, it’s one of the most powerful tools in your toolkit as an engineering manager. Here’s why:

  1. Preserving focus and resources – Picture this: your team is like a ship, and you’re the captain. Every project you take on is like setting a course for a new destination. Now, if you try to sail to every possible destination at once, what happens? You guessed it, you’re going nowhere fast. By saying no to the less critical stuff, you keep your ship steady and on course to the destinations that really matter. It’s all about making sure your team’s energy and resources are laser-focused on what will make the biggest impact.

  2. Avoiding burnout – We’ve all been there, those late-night coding sessions, the never-ending bug fixes, and the coffee that never seems strong enough. That’s the express train to Burnout City. And as a manager, it’s not just about you; it’s about your team too. When you say no to extra workload, you’re not just saving yourself from burnout; you’re protecting your team too. A happy, well-rested team is a productive team.

  3. Setting healthy boundaries – Here’s the thing: boundaries are healthy. They’re good for you, and they’re good for your team. When you set clear boundaries by saying no to things that don’t align with your team’s goals or bandwidth, you’re actually creating a more respectful and productive work environment. It’s like telling your team, “Hey, I value your time and well-being enough not to overload you with unnecessary work.” That’s leadership gold right there!

Picking your battles

Alright, we know saying no is important, but when do you actually do it? It’s not about turning into Mr. or Ms. Negative and shooting down every idea. It’s about knowing which battles to pick. Let’s break it down:

  1. Misaligned projects – Imagine someone pitches a project that sounds cool but is way off from what your team is all about. It’s like being a great swimmer asked to play basketball, you could do it, but should you? If a project doesn’t align with your team’s goals or strengths, it’s a prime candidate for a polite, “Thanks, but no thanks.” Stick to what moves the needle for your team.

  2. Unrealistic timelines – Someone wants a six-month project done in two weeks. I mean, we’re good, but we’re not magicians! When deadlines are unrealistic, it’s not just about the stress; it’s about the quality of work that’s going to suffer. This is when you need to step in and say, “Let’s be realistic about how much time this needs.”

  3. Compromising quality or values – This one’s a biggie. If a project asks you to cut corners or goes against your team’s values or ethical standards, it’s a hard no. It’s like if someone asks you to build a car but leave out the brakes. Not cool, right? Protecting your team’s integrity and quality of work is non-negotiable.

Tactics to say no effectively

So, how do you say no without coming off as the office party pooper? It’s not just about the no; it’s how you say it. Let’s dive into some tactics that can make saying no as smooth as your morning coffee.

  1. Clear communication – Honesty is your best friend here. Let’s say a project isn’t right for your team. Instead of a flat-out “no”, try something like, “I see the value in this, but given our current priorities, we can’t give this the attention it deserves.”

  2. Offering alternatives – Saying no doesn’t mean shutting the door completely. Maybe you can’t take on a full project, but how about a smaller part of it? Or maybe you know someone else who’s a perfect fit. It’s like saying, “I can’t cook the whole banquet, but I can definitely bring the dessert.”

  3. Involving the team in decision making – This is a big one. Bring your team into the conversation. Maybe they have insights you haven’t thought of. Or perhaps they’ll agree that it’s a no-go.

Knowing when to say yes

We’ve talked a lot about saying no, but let’s not forget the power of a well-timed “yes.” It’s not all about keeping things off your plate; sometimes, adding the right thing can be just as important. Here’s how to spot those golden opportunities.

  1. Opportunities for growth and innovation – Sometimes, a project comes along that’s like a golden ticket, it’s challenging, sure, but it’s packed with potential for growth and innovation. If it aligns with your team’s long-term goals and offers a chance to learn new skills or break new ground, that’s a yes waiting to happen.

  2. Building relationships and goodwill – There are times when saying yes is about playing the long game. Maybe a project helps build a bridge with another team or department, or it’s a chance to do a solid for a colleague. These moments build relationships and goodwill, which can be super valuable down the line. Think of it as planting a garden, a little effort now can lead to some beautiful blooms later.

  3. Balancing yes and no – The trick is finding the balance. You can’t say yes to everything, but you shouldn’t say no to everything either. It’s like your diet, a mix of healthy greens and the occasional slice of pizza. Find that sweet spot where you’re taking on projects that benefit the team and turning down the ones that don’t.


So, there we have it, a whirlwind tour through the land of saying no (and yes!). It’s not always easy to decide which way to lean, but remember, at the end of the day, it’s all about what’s best for your team and your projects.

Key takeaways

  • Saying no is about focus: it helps keep your team on track and prevents spreading yourselves too thin.
  • Balance is key: mix your nos with yeses. It’s like a good playlist, you need both the upbeat tracks and the mellow tunes.
  • Communication is crucial: whether you’re saying no or yes, how you communicate it makes all the difference.

Final thoughts

Being an engineering manager isn’t just about managing tech and people; it’s about managing choices. Each yes and no shapes the path your team takes. So, the next time you’re faced with a decision, take a breath, think about these tips, and remember, you’ve got this!

Disclaimer: this blog post was created with the assistance of AI technology. While the content has been carefully reviewed and edited, please note that the ideas and information presented are for informational purposes only. The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the AI technology used in its creation.