How to Say No: The Power Lies with You


Absolutely not. Nay. Nope. Nah.

However you choose to say it, sometimes saying no can be a difficult thing to do. It can be argued that this is simply ingrained in us; being told no is very rarely a positive experience, it often leads to feelings of denial, deprivation or rejection. We’re scared of missing out.

In our minds, no = negativity and no one wants to appear to be negative, do they? Nobody wants to make anyone else feel like they did when mummy said no to that toy or sweets before dinner! This people-pleasing mentality is hard to get out of, especially at work. Most people want their colleagues and managers to see them as positive and reliable with a ‘can-do’ attitude – this makes it hard to turn around and say no, even when you really should. You’re not the only one.

Why saying no isn’t always negative

When it comes down to it, saying ‘yes’ too often at work might not always boost your professional relationships, in fact it can be quite harmful. If you take on too much work, something may get missed or the quality of your work may suffer meaning that your reputation might, too. Or if you never say no, people may begin to take advantage, contributing to a toxic working environment.

So, it may be time to stop worrying about saying no at work, and starting to embrace the benefits. The way to do that is by altering the way we think about it – don’t see saying no as closing a door, you’re just opening a different one.

Opening a different door

Still not convinced? OK, so, let’s imagine for a second that you’re at work; you’ve got 50 emails in your inbox, a project due and a million other things to do. Sound familiar? Now your boss comes over and hands you another task, asking for it to be done as soon as possible. What’s the first thing you say? “Yes, OK, that’s fine!”, when inside you know you just can’t take any more work on right now. Unless you’re superhuman, the outcome of this is likely to involve something getting overlooked, a poor standard of work or a mini-meltdown at your desk – none of which are good.

The best way to handle situations like this is to take a second to think logically; weigh up the pros and cons of saying yes or no. Or is there a way around? For example, with the above situation, communication and negotiation could be the key to getting everything done. Rather than saying yes straight away, a good thing to try is to let your manager know that you’d love to help them, but inform them of what you already have to do. They may then be able to offer valuable advice regarding how to tackle your workload, give an alternative deadline or you may be able to negotiate with them in relation to other deadlines you need to meet. This way, you don’t have to say no outright, but you have much more control.

When is ‘no’ the right answer?

On some occasions, no really will be the best answer, but how will you know? Trust your instincts. You will have a gut feeling about the best thing to do, listen to it.

How to say no

In those situations, when no is entirely unavoidable, remember that how you say it is extremely important. Your colleagues or superior may not respect you any less for saying no, but if you say it in the wrong way it may have a negative impact on how they view you. A blunt, snappy no is never going to be well-received, even by the most understanding of people. So let’s consider how to say no.

If you need to say no, do it politely and calmly, maintaining your professionalism – you don’t want to be known as the office grouch! If someone has thought of you for a project or task that you’ve had to decline, don’t forget to thank them for the opportunity and express your gratitude for being considered.

You might want to give an explanation as to why you’re saying no. This is absolutely fine, just keep it brief. You are in no way obliged to explain or excuse your own decisions. If a co-worker is being too pushy, and not accepting your answer, then stand by your decision – you know what’s best for your workload, don’t let someone pressure you into something you shouldn’t be doing.

Don’t push it

That being said, by no means does this mean you should now go around saying no to everything and everyone! There is a difference between knowing you should say no and simply not wanting to do something. If you say no to doing a colleague a favour or taking on a project, you may regret it in the long run as you will have missed out on a great opportunity to build a good professional relationship (that may work in your favour one day) or to really show your manager what you can do. Saying yes could be well worth it!

Your time and needs are super important, so respect them. Thinking more carefully before saying yes or no at work will help you prioritise your workload, stay in control and be the best you can be.

Getting the confidence, courage and knowledge of how to say no will come with practice, the power lies with you!

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