Can you say ‘no’ when you need to at work?

10th December 2019

Making a positive impression is important to most of us, whether we’d like to admit it or not; in our social lives, our relationships and, of course, in the workplace. Part of our fundamental need to ‘fit in’ and make a good impression is pleasing our colleagues, managers, bosses and even subordinates. It is, however, equally important to know when you need to say ‘no’. The fear that there may be consequences is often too much persuasion to just say ‘yes’. 

It’s harder for some more than others, but how do you diplomatically handle effectively saying no in the workplace? 

When it’s ok to say no?:

Is this request going to be the straw that broke the camel’s back? 

If it is, then say no. If you have a lot on your plate and this last request will mean you struggle to manage your workload, then through explaining this, you can say no. 

Is the request jeopardising your integrity?

If it is, and it’s something you don’t feel comfortable doing, then maintain your integrity and trust in yourself and your judgement.

Is it outside of your skillset?

We’re often asked to take on workplace tasks that are slightly (or a lot) outside of our skillset. This can add to the issue of overloading, but it can also mean that the job is not done well- feel comfortable saying no to things that are not within your skillset or remit, as it is not only in your best interest, but also those of the company. 

Set those boundaries:

If you refuse to say no but instead regularly give in and say yes when you don’t want to or realistically can’t, it sets a precedent. The more you say yes, the more you will be expected to do so going forward, start flexing your ‘no’ muscles!

How to say no:

There’s much to be said for how we communicate with people, the words we choose, the tone we use and even our body language. When you’re asked to do something, take on a task, or help someone out, the way you say ‘no’ can be strongly correlated with how successful your turn down is. Instead of just a flat out ‘no’, try ‘I don’t have time’ or ‘I can’t this time’. 

Ask about the task that is being asked of you first, if you clearly understand what you’re being asked, you can answer more confidently ‘yes’ or ‘no’. This also gives you time to think the request through and respond with assertiveness. 

Don’t be afraid of saying ‘no’. If your reasons for saying no are just, then you should have no fear of turning them down. Speak up to your management, boss or colleagues, and speak to them about your reasons, they may not realise that your workload is so full or that it’s actually outside of your remit.  

Face-to-face is a better way to say no, while it’s much easier to reply via email, shielded from a possible awkward exchange, a firm refusal face-to-face means you can explain your ‘no’ and there’s less likelihood of any confusion over tone. Following this conversation up with an email is never a bad idea to reinforce what you have already explained; it provides a hard copy if you think that your ‘no’ may not have been taken seriously! 

Although saying ‘no’ is a daunting experience for all, as long as it is for the right reasons and you are calm it is often the best way forward for yourself, your colleagues, managers, and the business as a whole.