In 2012 Google received over 2 million search queries per minute. By 2014 that number had doubled.

Every minute:

·     Email users send over 200 million emails

·     YouTube Users upload 72 hours of content

·     Facebook users share nearly 2.5 million pieces of content

The volume of and rate at which we receive information is increasing exponentially day by day, month by month, year by year.

At the same time, the global economy is bordering on instability, which means profits are being squeezed, and many industries are experiencing more disruption and uncertainty in any time many of us reading this can remember.

So what does this all mean for you?

Essentially, what it means, is that you are consistently going to be asked to do more and more, with less.

We already know many professions suffer high rates of stress and depression, with these issues on the rise.

So the question is – how do you make the most of the time you have, and keep your head while those around you are losing theirs?

The key is in learning to say NO.


Setting boundaries in the workplace can be tough. The hierarchical structure of many environments mean most junior staff invariably get worked hard (if not flogged), and increasingly, the rise to top no longer renders you immune to long hours and high expectations.

Brene Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston, Texas. Brene has done some ground breaking work in the areas of vulnerability, courage, worthiness and shame.

Her New York Times bestselling book, “Daring Greatly: How The Courage To Be Vulnerable Transforms The Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead”, explores issues around showing vulnerability in our work lives, particularly in the current leadership paradigm that exists in our organisational structures.

Saying no ultimately makes you vulnerable: to criticism, to less future opportunities, and to feeling that you have let someone down.

Brene talks about the fact that the difficulty we have in saying no is linked to the last point. We often let people push us beyond our boundaries because we don’t want to feel rejected ie if we say no they might think less of us.

She also says our perfectionist nature gets in our way of setting appropriate boundaries. In the information age, we expect that we should know everything, and in fact be able to do everything.

But to create a successful career and be respected by people, the opposite is in fact true.

Help builds trust

Brene’s research highlights the key things we want from our leaders and the trait that was cited as the most important in a leader is trust. Without trust, nothing works. I have seen this countless times – when staff lose trust in those supposed to be leading them, the outcome is never pretty. Engagement levels slide, people leave, and those who stay have one eye constantly on the door.

When asked how leaders can build trust, the research concluded that not being afraid to ask for help is one of the most effective ways a leader can build trust.

The Marble Jar

I believe the issue of trust is crucial when it comes to setting effective boundaries. You need to have a sufficient bank of trust so that when you need to say no to something, it doesn’t break a bond – indeed in many cases it may actually strengthen it.

Trust is built in small actions. Brene refers to it as filling the Marble Jar. Every time we make a small act that builds trust, we put another marble in the jar. The more marbles in the jar, the easier it is to say no when you need to, without consequences.

No does not mean yes

No matter how many marbles in your jar, the language you use to say no is still important.

This is where a lot of people fall down. They find it difficult to say no outright, so they end up saying things like “I’m sorry but I’m really busy right now – if you leave it with me I’ll get it done later.”

That’s still a YES even though you know you should be saying NO.

Here are some phrases that might help you if this is an area you find tricky.

“I’m not able to commit to doing that for you at this time, can I help you work out who else in the team has capacity?”

“My schedule is full for the next 3 days, talk to me about the deadline for that piece of work and let’s see if it’s able to be done later.”

“I’ve prioritised a piece of work for X, if your work is more urgent could you talk to X about me doing it?”

Build your no muscle

Like anything, the more often you say no, the easier it becomes next time. And it’s not just important at work – you need to build the muscle in your personal life too because over-commitment outside of work can also lead to stress inside of work.

Respect me

It’s a human trait that we would prefer to be liked than not liked. But ultimately the key in a successful work relationship is that you are respected, and give respect in return.

Saying no might make you feel less likeable, but it will certainly make you more respect-able.

Be brave – say no more often – and observe the difference it makes in your life.

[This post first appeared as my Career Column in the April edition of The NSW Law Society Journal.]