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How to Say ‘No’ at Work

How to Say ‘No’ at Work

Saying ‘no’ to someone at work can feel daunting, particularly when they’re in a more senior position than you. Whether it’s an idea you don’t like or a project you aren’t ready for, expressing yourself in the right way is an important skill that can help you avoid taking on more work than you’re ready for, or upsetting your co-workers. Here are five tips to make sure you can say ‘no’ at work without feeling guilty.

Be Honest

One of the most important aspects of saying ‘no’ is also the simplest: be honest about it. If you’re asked to take on more work and you don’t have enough time for it, saying ‘yes’ is only going to put unwanted stress on you and a strain on your work. It can mean rushing work to hit deadlines, or missing them and delaying someone else’s schedule.

When brainstorming ideas, it’s important to stay honest and constructive with your opinion. You should never feel like you have to agree with an idea you don’t think will work, and backing up your opinion can help give your colleagues a clear vision of your thought process. By staying honest, you’re much more likely to arrive at an idea that everyone is on board with.

Say It In Person

It can be difficult to express certain thoughts through email, meaning a co-worker can misinterpret why you’re saying ‘no’. It feels easier to use email to let colleagues down lightly, as it is indirect and people can reply in their own time, but it is always better to speak to your colleagues directly.

If someone sends a request that you can’t help with, try to have a quick sit-down meeting or a chat at their desk. No matter how you do it, your co-worker will appreciate you taking the time to speak with them in person and talk about the work, rather than assuming you declined it without a valid reason. You’ll be able to explain thoughts and details more thoroughly while avoiding any confusion about the task or idea you’re declining.

Be Appreciative

When someone comes to you for help, assigns you a task, or wants your input with an idea, it’s because they trust your opinion and skills. This aspect that can make it difficult to turn them away – you don’t want to disappoint them by not being able to help. This is why showing appreciation, even when you’re saying ‘no’, is important.

Always say ‘thank you’ when someone comes to you for help and try to keep your discussion of the work positive. For example, let’s say a colleague talks you through an idea and you don’t think it will work. Show that you appreciate the time and effort they’ve put into their idea, and point out which aspects of it should be kept for future ideas. This means you’ll be able to stay honest about your thoughts and your co-worker will understand that you’re being constructive with your criticism.

Suggest an Alternative

Even if you aren’t able to work on a task directly, you may still be able to help your colleagues by suggesting alternatives to them. This is a great attribute to have in the office, as managers will see that you’re always willing to help people, no matter your skill level.

Perhaps you lack specific software to do something, but know someone in another department who can help. Or maybe you remember hearing about a similar project during lunch with your co-workers. Whatever you can do to help people along, they will appreciate you taking the time to help them out.

Stand Your Ground

An office is filled with many different personalities and saying ‘no’ to someone who is more direct or assertive than you can lead to conflict, if you don’t handle things correctly. However, no matter how much you take our tips on board, some people struggle to take ‘no’ for an answer. Should this happen, make sure you stand your ground and defend your decisions.

When you don’t like an idea, you shouldn’t feel pressured to work on it because of a more senior colleague. If you’re asked to work late, don’t feel obligated to just because someone else at work regularly does. Stay calm, explain again why you’re saying ‘no’, and consult your manager if problems with your colleague persist.


Got any more tips for saying ‘no’ while at work? Let us know on Twitter at @viking_chat.

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