Saying ‘No’ at Work: Why, When and How to Do It Nicely

Saying 'No' at Work: Why, When and How to Do It Nicely letsreachsuccess.com infographic

This is a guest post by Andrew Dennis.

If you ask a successful legacy employee for career advice, it’s likely they will come out with some variation of the old adage: “Know when to say no.”

It’s spectacular advice, but easier said than done.

Most people want to say yes to projects at work. To prove that we can do any job that is asked of us, show we are as capable and responsible as others, Or make sure we make a good impression on our superiors and peers.

However, it’s important to learn to say no periodically, when necessary. So as not to jeopardize the other work you may be doing. 

Saying yes too often is a common issue.

According to the study represented in the infographic below, over 50% of workers say they feel overwhelmed. Projects pile up that all seem doable by themselves but collectively they build into a mountain of work that is impossible to scale.

This leads to shoddy or mid-level work on projects that should have been carefully edited. As well as a lack of innovation on work that could have used some creative pondering.

It is frustrating to realize that you aren’t putting forward your best and most impressive output because you’ve run out of time.

How Do You Know When to Say No?

It helps to have a considered strategy when entering into any work situation.

The infographic below outlines work-related reasons for saying no. Such as, not to pick up a task when you’re not the most qualified person for the job. Or if you cannot realistically make the deadline. But there are personal reasons to think about as well.

When asked to take on a project try to make sure to assess your work level and then see if what you are being asked to do adheres to at least one of these following criteria:

  • Will it advance my resume/reputation/job performance?
  • It is something I am passionate about?
  • It is something I have been meaning to learn?

If you find yourself saying yes to projects that fit none of these — “just because” or “just to help out”, it is time to try to find a way to say no.

Think of a project that does not follow these criteria as active time-wasters, something that is taking energy away from projects or life experiences that you could otherwise engage in if you weren’t so busy taking with something unrewarding.  

As with most communications, honesty is the best policy.

However, as the infographic below demonstrates, there are strategies to frame declining an offer of work that make it more palatable.

Some simple ways to consider saying no properly:

  • Say no face to face – if possible perform sensitive communications in person or at least over the phone (rather than trusting an email or text message to do your dirty work).
  • Don’t make excuses – just be clear about your situation.
  • Don’t equivocate – give a specific and solid NO to avoid any confusion and do so deliberately.
  • Offer an alternative – have an idea in place for how the work can get done without your input or with you in a lesser role.
  • Be open for future work – while perhaps this time it didn’t work out, reiterate that you are looking forward to the possibility of working together at a better time.

Check the infographic from GetVoIP below for more strategies for delivering a no response that won’t ruffle feathers at work.

how to say not at work respectfully

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