How And When To Say 'No' At Work

The question of when and where to say 'no' at work should be considered carefully. Prepare for the occasion when you might need the courage to say “no” to a particular request in advance. This is necessary especially when you are young and starting out, but it holds true if you are new to the company regardless of your age or position. You must consider the consequences of saying “no” from every angle. Related: Overworked? 5 Ways To Avoid Job Burnout For example, do you dare say “no” and let your boss think you aren’t a team player? Do you risk making the impression that you don’t want to “do your part,” or that you aren’t ready to make certain sacrifices in order to be successful? Much depends, of course, upon the line of work you are pursuing. If you are an intern working in a high-pressure field like hospital medicine and you have been assigned to the emergency room for training, for example, your opportunities to say “no” may be few and far between, and your saying “no” could jeopardize your entire career. In a case like that, you would want to tread very carefully when considering the idea of saying “no” to any particular assignment. If, however, you are in a field where the stakes are less high, you may have more flexibility and discretion. Regardless of the setting, however, when and how you say “no” at work should be considered a serious question, and it is one that you should consider carefully before it happens. Take it for granted that at some point in your career, someone is going to ask you to take on an extra duty that may feel like it is too much within the context of everything else you are already doing. If your boss or supervisor asks you to take on an extra duty at just the time when you are already feeling stretched or overwhelmed, consider the following: (1) Is this extra duty or project going to take away from your ability to complete your other responsibilities? If the answer to that question is “yes,” you need to consider saying “no” to the extra duty. (2) Could someone else in your department more easily take on this duty causing them less strain? If so, making that suggestion along with saying “no” might be a viable option. (3) How recently did you turn down the last request to take on something extra? Saying “no” too often may make you seem uncooperative or like you aren’t willing to carry your fair share of the workload. That is an appearance that you want to avoid. (4) Can you reasonably explain to the person making the request what your other responsibilities and duties and deadlines are without going into so much detail that you sound like you are whining and complaining? You want to avoid coming across as a complainer, so be careful there. (5) Finally, if you can’t see your way clear with regard to taking on this extra responsibility right now, can you offer another alternative so that the boss or supervisor gets the message that you aren’t simply saying “no” without considering all of the various options. Saying “no” at work is sometimes necessary, and the ability to say “no” graciously is a skill that you need to develop. You want to practice this ability as sparingly as you can in your early career, however. The last thing you want to develop is a reputation for being difficult or lazy. On the other hand, you don’t want to be seen as a doormat, either. One word of caution: Always deliver your “no” in person rather than through e-mail or through a third person. (Never send your assistant to deliver your “no” on your behalf.) By going to your supervisor or boss in person, you show them the respect they deserve. Additionally, perhaps during the course of the conversation, you can, brainstorm another option for getting the task done that you hadn’t considered and won’t over burden either of you. You want to develop a reputation for being a valuable asset to your organization. That means showing that you have good judgment and that you can be trusted to do what you say you will do within the agreed upon time frame. That way, when you need to say “no,” and you offer a thoughtful response to your boss or supervisor regarding that “no,” she/he will trust that you know your limitations and will respect the decision instead of questioning it or you. This post was originally published on an earlier date.


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About the author

Kitty Boitnott, Ph.D., NBCT is a Certified Life Strategies and Stress Management Coach and is an ICC at CareerHMO. Visit her coaching page here.       Disclosure: This post is sponsored by a CareerHMO coach. You can learn more about coach posts here.   Photo Credit: Shutterstock

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