How To Say ‘No’ At Work


It’s a sunny day outside. You come to your work and see a pile waiting for you on your desk. Was it really that big when you left on Friday? You suspect your boss has added a few more files since then. You realize that you have a few deadlines that you have crossed and a few more that you have requested to be extended. You also realize if you had said ‘no’ in the first place, this wouldn’t have been the case right now.

If you find yourself in a similar situation as above, more likely than not, it’s because you can’t say ‘no’.

Is there a way you can change that?

Well, as a matter of fact, yes, you can. Below we discuss how that’s possible.

Think it through

When someone at work asks you to help them with something new, realize nobody needs you to give an answer right away. Take your time, see if you have any free space to do it, and think of all the consequences before you give them an answer. If you feel you are too busy and other things are a priority, then you have your answer and it’s ‘no’.

Ask for help prioritizing

More often than not, your work can be prioritized. Start by characterizing your tasks. Some tasks have short-term deadlines and can be considered to be top-priority tasks. The top priority also depends on whom it is that assigning you the tasks. Some tasks are assigned by your boss while some are assigned by your colleagues. In such a case, the ones assigned to you by your boss take top-priority. If you have trouble characterizing them, ask a colleague to help you out.

Offer an alternative

Just because you’re not going to do the work, doesn’t mean you can’t still help your boss or colleague out. Try offering them a solution or an alternative that they can use to get the work done. It can be by suggesting a different time in the future on your calendar or by suggesting a different colleague altogether.

Share your calendar

This will make saying ‘no’ easier. You can either share your Google calendar with your boss and colleagues. When they can see what you’re doing and why you’re busy, chances are they will not come to you with extra work or will ask for it to be done whenever you’re free.


In the words of Christine Carter, UC Berkeley sociologist, “when we make a specific plan before we are confronted with a request, we are far more likely later to act in a way that’s consistent with our original intentions.”

So, this might help in saying ‘no’ too.

Hold your ground

Holding your ground is how you’ll show that your reason for saying ‘no’ is legit. If you say ‘no’ and then change it to a ‘yes’, they’ll assume that there is room to convince you each time they have something for you. So, make a clear decision once and stick to it.

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