How to Say No at Work

June 01 2015

Saying ‘No’ comes easily for some, but for others can be quite difficult. After all, strong work ethic means we should be the person that says ‘yes’ at work, right?

Wrong. Or rather, not exactly.

Sure, you don’t want to be that person screaming NO at everyone, but you also don’t want to be the person agreeing to take on the world. Try as you may, you are only one person, and if you try to do too much you’ll end up burned out. Here’s what you need to know about how to say no at work.


The Art of Saying No

The art of saying “No” is difficult to master but the key to its success is in being graceful and respectful when doing so. Here are things to keep in mind when you’re tasked with saying “no”.

  • Be Polite: A great way to do this is to express gratitude that you were thought of to tackle the task at hand. “Sorry” is also a nice, polite word to include, but don’t dwell on the rejection. Smile, give thanks, apologize (when/if necessary) and move along.
  • Be Sincere: When saying no you need to come across as sincere. Don’t joke or appear aloof. Even if you are friends with your boss or co-worker, this is not the time for off-the-cuff remarks.
  • Be Clear: While being nice and polite when saying no is important, it is equally important that you make your “no” clear so there’s not any confusion or disappointment—either immediately or down the road.

After declining, suggest someone else for the job. This helps quell any awkward silence and redirects your decline into a positive solution.


Know When to Say No

Sometimes, knowing when to say no can be tricky. You shouldn’t avoid additional work like the plague. Tackling extra projects and expanding your skill set is something you should do—but you need to be aware of your limits and be willing and able to evaluate your work load realistically.

When unsure think about the following:

  • Who: Think of who is asking you to do something. Your boss or manager is priority, while others are not.
  • What: What is the task? Is it something you can do and/or are familiar with. Will it teach you anything? Will you learn from it? Will it help with your career development? What other things do you have on your plate, so to speak?
  • When: When does it need to be completed and when will you have to get it done?
  • Where: Where does it fit in with your other work projects? Will it put a strain on you?

As you can see, saying no or yes is complicated. There are a lot of independent variables that only you can account for. Ultimately, the ability to say no in the right way at the right time is an invaluable skill that will help you garner more respect in the workplace.

It may never be an easy task, but it is always a necessary one.



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