5 Things to Consider Before You Say No at Work

A man pondering a laptop screen with a cup, plant and notebook beside the laptop

It’s Tuesday at 11.30 am and your boss has just called you into the office. There is an important piece of work they need you to take care of and it needs to be completed by Friday.

You already have 3 deadlines to meet this week which need to be done, in between the 10 hours of internal meetings already on your calendar. You now have to decide whether to change the direction of the conversation from the default response – yes – to the alternative – no.

What do you do?

Many times people will say yes while wishing they had the confidence to say no. Others will say no and will wonder if they gave the right response. Before you answer, consider the following:

  1. Confirm that is it an important task, and not simply something which is urgent but not important. Question to Ask – “What will happen if this doesn’t get done?”

  2. Find out where is the deadline of Friday coming from. Does all of the work need to be completed by Friday, or would part of it suffice? Question to Ask – “If I could only do one part by Friday, which is the most important”

  3. If there are other people on your team that could also do the job, it is worth finding out why it is you being asked. It may be a simple as your boss feels you have the time to do it, or there may be another reason. For example, this may be an opportunity to work with people who you haven’t before or your boss may feel you are a reliable person to get an important task completed on time. Question to Ask – “If I can’t do this, is there someone else who can?”

  4. Identify how much work actually needs to be completed. The amount of work to be done could change this from a 3-day task to a half day, which is a very different scenario to consider. Question to Ask – “What work has already been completed for this?”

  5. Is this more important than what you had planned to do this week? This last one is tricky because we often get attached to our calendar and our to-do list. Question to Ask – “If I do this, then X won’t get done this week. Which is more important?”

At the end of the conversation, you will be able to give the right answer for the current situation.

If you find yourself regularly in this place, it may be time to step back and take a broader look at why this is happening. You may want to meet with your boss and review your overall workload. Are you both in agreement about what work is important? Do they know how much of your time is being spent on internal meetings, (hint – it’s always more than it should be!)

There are also situations where saying No is the right response; there are some great articles like this one which covers the common reasons why.

Regardless of what outcome the conversation brings, the most important thing is to have confidence in your judgment and the answer you give. And remember, a no is always better than a yes without follow through.

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