How to say "No" at work
Whether it’s your manager asking you to take on a new project, a colleague who wants you to stay late to cover their shift or a client demanding additional work at 10pm on a Sunday – there are plenty of situations at work where you will need to know how to say “no.”
Getting into the habit of saying “yes” to every request can quickly lead to burn out. Research has shown that working any more than 40 hours per week will actually result in being less productive.
Similarly, staying up late and sacrificing your sleep to squeeze in a couple more hours of work will severely impact your next day.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of taking on too much, but always picking up small tasks for other people can quickly mean you fall behind on your own important tasks and end up feeling overwhelmed. Setting strong boundaries in the workplace is crucial to a successful and fulfilling career, so here are our 6 steps to effectively and politely saying “no.” And sticking to it!
Before saying no, make sure to take a minute to consider what is being asked of you and how this could fit into your busy schedule. If you were to take on this new piece of work, how would it affect the deadlines you’re already working towards? Is there something else which is already a priority this week?
Once you know your reasons for having to say no, it will be much easier to seem genuine in your response. Let your manager, or colleague, know that while you’re grateful they would think of you for the work, it’s not something you can take on this week without impacting other tasks.
If your boss has turned to you with this work, it’s because they know they can trust you to complete it to a high standard – so take the compliment! Acknowledge the opportunity, while also respectfully letting them know that you won’t be able to accept it on this occasion. A simple “thank you for thinking of me,” can go a long way to ensure you aren’t passed over for any future prospects that might pop up.
Don’t overcomplicate your response by detailing all the reasons behind it. Your colleague doesn’t need to know the ins-and-outs of the other projects you’re currently working on, simply that you unfortunately do not have time for this particular one.
By keeping your reply simple, there’s less of an opportunity for your colleague to push back and question your answer.
Don’t leave any room for interpretation. Avoid phrases such as “maybe,” “unsure,” and “possibly” – that isn’t what you mean; you mean “no.”
For example, don’t say: “I’m sorry, I don’t think I will have time for this task this week. I’ve got other responsibilities that might require my attention and I’m unsure if I will be able to squeeze this in.”
Instead, say: “Thank you for thinking of me, but I won’t have time to complete this due to other deadlines. Thank you for understanding!”
Lies always catch up with us in the end, so don’t be tempted to spin a story about how you can’t stay late this week because your aunt is visiting from Peru and someone needs to be home to babysit the guinea pig every evening.
If you are genuine in your inability to fit in the additional workload, then there is no need to stray from the truth. If you establish a reputation in the office as a liar, it will be a hard label to shake off.
You can say “no” and still keep your position as a team player. Here’s how: Try to offer an alternative to your involvement. For example, you could recommend a colleague who has expressed interest in taking on additional responsibilities, or perhaps share resources or tools that might help them complete the task. Sometimes just being there to chat through an idea with someone and provide some food for thought can be a beneficial compromise.
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