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Saying "NO" A Superpower

Written by: Anand Safi, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


In this article, we will look at the power of saying No — having the flexibility and willingness to stand by what is important and speak your mind.

While becoming more proficient at coding and learning new frameworks helps, there are some key superpowers that can make you stand out even more as a distinguished engineer. These help you not only to avoid burnout but also to have long-term continued success.

To expand on this, here are some key benefits that you unlock by practicing this superpower:

Increased Focus

A study reported by BBC a few years back shared an eye-opening stat that "The average focus time of a human is now 8-seconds, down from 12-seconds, over a mere span of 15 years & is shorter than that of a goldfish". With such a short attention span, finding ways to stay focused on the task at hand is more important than ever.

If one simply continues to have a people-pleasing attitude by being “always available” to work at anything that is thrown to them, they will end up doing less. This might seem confusing but in reality, they will be spreading too thin across multiple things at once while completing or getting done with any one thing in its entirety.

The key point here is to have a questioning attitude. The questioning has to be both internal and external.

  • Internal — asking whether you are compromising something more important and urgent at hand/ in progress by simply trying to stay in someone’s good books? asking whether this is something you can delegate to someone else?

  • External — asking whether this is the topmost priority? It might be a top priority to the person asking but is it truly important and urgent for the business, project, team, etc.?Asking details around what is being asked from you and why specifically only you?

If there is not a satisfactory answer to any of the above questions or similar, it should be within your power to decline or postpone that request at that moment. While doing so, it must be done in a polite manner with at least some high-level context on why this ask is a lesser priority for now.

Too much context-switching or multi-tasking might be distracting and cause more harm than help.

Uplifting Your Team Knowledge

The idea behind this is straightforward and as stated. When you say “no” to a specific task/ type of request that you have been the point-person over a period, it creates opportunity.

  • It creates an opportunity for the team to reduce the dreaded bottleneck of having isolated pockets of expertise. While subject matter expertise is of deep value, it can create long-term disadvantages when there is no visibility into a certain topic or process for a key component other than that 1 individual who knows how to solve for it.

  • It creates an opportunity for someone else to level up, get skilled at something new. This chance to learn something critical or be that alternate shoulder to tap on can be of immense value.

  • It creates an opportunity for you to mentor and coach. There cannot be a more apt situation to spread knowledge and share your expertise than this specific one.

Knowledge is power. Knowledge shared is power multiplied – Robert Boyce

Growth Opportunities

The “growth” in this benefit is in the sense of your individual growth. If you think about it, while you feel great that you are always asked to help with a specific type of request, need — it creates a narrow niche for you over time. The word to stress is “specific”.

It totally depends on whether you would like to stay a specialist or become a smart generalist (or better a versatilist!). In general, if you try to balance doing the same type of work with learning something new or expanding your area of focus, it could lead to more growth opportunities for you.

I personally would have a core area of expertise but equally be capable and aware of contributing to other aspects of product development vs being confined to an area, a type of work. Not only it gives you more interesting problems to work on, it gives you even bigger opportunities to collaborate while becoming a more favorable member to have on a team due to your ability to work and contribute to more areas.

Not Being Taken for Granted

This is more important than ever. People, teams, and organizations constantly fail to realize that “nothing lasts forever”.

If you feel awkward suddenly declining a request you have always helped with, think of this — you are helping the team by saying “no”. Try to do it for the greater good?

Unless the situation does not reach a point where one is not taken for granted, they will not explore creative ways to solve the task at hand. There is a strong possibility that many teams and organizations continue to be “blindsided” by this notion.

Just because there is someone now that is handling anything directed at them, does not mean they will continue to be there forever, or they will politely keep doing whatever they are told to forever.

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Anand Safi, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Anand currently serves as a Senior Engineering Leader for Mark43 – a public safety software company. Over the past decade, Anand has progressed from starting as an aspiring engineer to becoming an engineering leader.

Anand also is a Startup Advisor, Volunteer Board Member and an established tech mentor outside of his role. He loves reading about engineering culture, team dynamics and new advancements in tech.



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