How to Say No At Work – 5 Tips

Last week, we talked about Saying No at Work – When and Why to Do it.  This week, I want to discuss how to say no at work.  Being able to say no at work tactfully is an art form. You cannot just be blunt — how you say something is as important as what you want to say if you want to achieve the desired results.  In this case, the desired result is for the requester to accept your no and feel okay with it.  Here are 5 tips on how to say no at work gracefully:

  1. Be decisive – Don’t say yes and then say no.  Nobody likes to be yanked around.  Once you say yes,  you can’t go back on your word.  If you are not sure, say “can I get back to you?  I want to make sure I can deliver what I promise before saying yes.”
  2. Stay positive –  You want to start with something positive to soften the blow.  Some phrases that may work are “I would love to work with you,” or “I am flattered that you asked me to help,” or “I would love to work on this problem with you.”
  3. Be reasonable – Offer a plausible business reason for saying no.  “I am swamped with a xx deadline for a top priority company” is a good reason.  “I don’t like this kind of work,” or “this work is not part of my job description,” are not good reasons.
  4. Be clear and offer alternatives – When saying no, offer alternatives so you help the requester find someone else to help.  Some alternative can be:
    1. Push out the timeline – “Can it wait two weeks after I am done with…”
    2. Negotiate and reprioritze – “here is what I am working on now – can any of these be pushed so I can work on this?”
    3. Suggest someone else to ask for help:  “If you need this done immediately, I can’t do it because of x y z, but perhaps person Y can help instead.”
  5. Circle back later – If your time clears up more next week, circle back with the requester to see if you can still help.   Sometimes they will say yes, and sometimes they will have already found someone.  Either way, this move will give you positive points for being proactive and helpful.

I hope these tips help.  At the end of day, learning how to say no at work takes time and practice.  Over time, you will find your own style of doing it gracefully and to everyone’s benefit.

Your comments:  Share your experience of how to say no at work.  Lesson learned?  Do these tips above help?  I look forward to your comments.  I am always in your corner. 

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– Lei

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