How to Say No at Work

How To Say No at Work

Have you ever felt overwhelmed with tasks at work but didn’t know how to decline additional responsibilities? You’re not alone. Saying no in a professional setting often feels counterintuitive. After all, teamwork and collaboration are usually at the core of a company’s values. 

Why Saying No is Tricky

Saying no at work is complicated for several reasons:

  • Fear of appearing uncooperative or unhelpful.
  • Worrying about missing out on opportunities.
  • Concerns about job security or career progression.
  • Guilt or a sense of obligation.
  • Lack of assertiveness or time management skills.
  • Unclear priorities and goals.

I used to think the answer lay in clocking extra hours or streamlining my tasks, only to find myself overworked and underdelivering.

A Different Approach to Saying No

Rather than viewing a request as an added burden, see it as someone seeking a solution. You may not need to take ownership of the task to be helpful. Sometimes, clarifying the scope or directing the person to other resources can be just as valuable.

Questions to Clarify Requests:

  1. Urgency: Separate the person’s haste from the task’s actual urgency. Ask, “When is this due?” or “When will this be used?”
  2. Impact: Determine if the task is essential. Ask, “What will happen if this doesn’t get done?” or “What’s the next step after this?”
  3. Specific Needs: You don’t have to handle the entire task. Ask, “Which part of this do you need the most help with?”
  4. Unique Value: Find out why you’re the go-to person. Ask, “If I can’t do this, is there someone else who can help?”
  5. Level of Effort: Assess the workload realistically. Ask, “What work has already been completed for this?”
  6. Cost to You: Make it clear what will be set aside if you accept. Ask, “If I do this, X won’t get done this week? Which is more important?”

Download The 6 Clarifying Questions Guide and practice building these questions into your conversations at work.

Assess Your Workload

Before answering, take a moment to review your current workload. A simple list outlining your tasks, deadlines, and progress can help you decide. If pressed for an immediate answer, explain you need time to assess your capacity responsibly.

Learn more:

How to Actually Say No at Work

After going through these steps, you’ll be better equipped to give a considered response. If the answer is no:

  • Be honest and direct about why you can’t take on the task.
  • Suggest an alternative if possible.
  • Always be respectful and empathetic.

Remember, the outcome isn’t always a flat-out no. Sometimes, it’s about rearranging or shedding tasks to accommodate the new one or offering a partial yes.

The Importance of Saying No

Learning how to say no at work is vital for maintaining a sustainable workload and work-life balance.  Consider discussing your workload with your boss if you’re constantly at capacity. 

Download our list of clarifying questions to prepare for the next time you need to say no at work.

About Niamh

Niamh is committed to making the information and tools to improve productivity available to every professional who is striving to improve how they work and live.

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