How to say no at work and still come up smelling of roses

No matter how you cut it, saying no in the workplace is hard. No one wants to look lazy, uncooperative, ungrateful, or like they’re not a team player. And yet, saying no is sometimes essential due to existing workloads, commitments outside work, or even just a lack of agreement over the usefulness of the task requested. Saying no graciously in a way that takes the emotion out of the statement and softens the blow is an essential skill that we all need to master.


Happily, the Harvard Business Review has published a how-to video clip on this very subject. Watch it here or skip straight to our synopsis below.


The process

First, consider the request. Evaluate whether you can and want to action it. Secondly, acknowledge and thank your manager for thinking of you. Be genuinely grateful for the opportunity! Thirdly, use evidence to either say no firmly (and explain why it’s not possible, getting your manager to agree) or renegotiate your current workload/ priorities to enable you to say yes.


Examples of the process in action

– “I need this time that you’ve asked of me to work on X and therefore I won’t be able to do Y. That’s right, isn’t it? Do you agree that I should really prioritise X?”


– “If there’s absolutely no way that this project or this request can wait, let’s renegotiate what needs to be put on the back burner so that I can prioritise this request.”


Stand firm and be confident

Of course, it’s not always as straightforward as in the above examples. It may be that your manager resists your initial attempts to refuse or renegotiate your workload. But stand firm, state your case calmly and confidently and, if needs be, suggest revisiting the conversation later when both parties have had a chance to consider existing work priorities and deadlines.


Whether your no is greeted with immediate acceptance or requires reinforcing and renegotiating, knowing how to refuse requests effectively and graciously is an essential life skill. It can be difficult at first but with practice you’ll master it. You have no choice. Without boundaries you could end up under-performing all your tasks and even risk burnout.


So the next time your boss asks you to stay late or over the weekend, or you’re asked to get involved in a project that you really shouldn’t be working on, what will you say?


We hope you found the above article useful, and we look forward to seeing you here next week for more news and views on the workplace. If, in the meantime, you’d like to discuss your next career move, please get in touch so we can brainstorm the options.