Tuesday, August 10, 2010

4 Ways to Say "No" at Work

Often the most difficult word in the English language is "no." Many of us hate hearing it (especially when it goes with "No...you aren't getting the promotion") but it's just as difficult for many of us to say it.

In this tough economy, saying "no" has become impossible for some. Fear of losing a job keeps many of us saying "yes" past the point of no return. The result is that we're more stressed, more exhausted and sometimes, more unhappy than ever.

But if you can't say "no," then you're not only losing control of your career, but your life. You're letting too many outside factors dictate your path, and that only leads to disaster.

I know it can be difficult to stand firm when you believe others need your help. It can be tough to turn down work when you know your boss needs you. But there are ways to say "no" and still be seen as a team player, as someone who can be counted on.


  • Being clear about what you need. If the boss needs you to put in some overtime, for example, you can agree -- and disagree. Maybe your child has baseball practice on Wednesday nights, so you say you can't work late on those nights. But, you add, you're willing to put in the extra hours on Tuesday and Thursday. Make a list of those things that are important to you, and don't compromise on them if you can help it.
  • Taking five. If someone makes a request, don't tense up and immediately say "yes" even when inside you're screaming, "No, dammit!" Tell the person you need to check your schedule and get back to them, or simply say you can't do it on such short notice but would be happy to help with more advance notice. Don't let someone else pressure you into making decisions -- take the time to really consider the request.
  • Being honest with yourself. Maybe you feel pressured with all the things you have to do, but then when you make an honest assessment of your time, you realize you're goofing around on Twitter or Facebook for hours every day. Guilt over such time-wasters can make you say "yes" to requests that really don't fit into your schedule. If you work with more focus, you'll be better able to say "no" and not feel guilty.
  • Letting the boss figure it out. If the boss dumps more work on your plate -- and you're clearly overloaded -- just tell her that while you'd love to help out with the extra work, it will impact Project A. Ask the boss to help you set priorities -- should Project A be put on the back burner or Project B postponed? That puts the onus back on the boss.
How have you learned to say "no" to increasing work demands?


Scot Herrick said...

Learning to say "no" with grace and aplomb is a terrific job skill to have. Perhaps a necessary one. These four are really good techniques to use if you really haven't tried to say no before.

And, I'd add, until you are willing to say "no" to something, you won't create any value to what you do. If all you do is say "yes," you'll never get the respect and consideration you deserve.

Not just at work either...

Anita said...

Scot, I think more people than ever are afraid of saying "no" at work. My concern is that if they don't learn to stick up for themselves sooner they'll be doing a Steven Slater and popping the slide with a beer in their hands to just get away from it all. You make a great point -- we all deserve consideration and respect -- and we have to be the ones to make sure we get it.

John Carter said...

Great recommendation in item #4. Not only does it accomplish your goal of managing your workload properly, but executed properly as a request for advice and teamwork it can help build the relationship with your boss and get some "facetime" in the process.

Anita said...

Thanks, John!