How to Say No
How to Say No
It seems simple enough. Someone asks you to do something that you don’t want to do, or can’t take on at the moment. You should say no. But you don’t. All too often, we waffle. This is especially true of women, who have been socialized to be helpful and agreeable, often to the detriment of our own best interests. It doesn’t help that in today’s workplace, we are constantly challenged to do more with less, so more and more requests pile up.

The fear of saying no stems from a few things: not wanting a perception of not being a team player, wanting to be “nice,” and a desire to be liked by our coworkers. No one wants to be a jerk, and no one wants to work with a jerk, but declining additional work or extraneous invitations does not make someone a jerk. In fact, someone who can quickly determine what is and what is not a valuable investment of her time and act on that is generally regarded as a capable decision-maker.

So, how do you say no to additional work/projects in a polite, professional context? Here are some tips:
  • Say the word. Say no. If possible, do so in person or over the phone. It is often difficult to read tone into an email, and personal conversations allow for more free-flowing discussion than a terse message does.

  • Don’t decline right off the bat. Take the time to consider the request, weigh the pros and cons, and evaluate the benefits to yourself, the team, the project, the revenue, whatever.

  • Keep it simple. You don’t need to launch into a lengthy explanation as to why you can’t or don’t want to do X. While some level of detail is likely to be appreciated, the requestor doesn’t need, and really isn’t interested in, the minutiae.

  • Offer an alternative. Perhaps you are the best person to work on Project X, but your workload at the moment is overwhelming. You could offer to take on the task once your time frees up. People like to work with people who are able to compromise.

  • Avoid saying yes to people who are disrespectful of your time and talents. Is there someone who is constantly asking you to do something, but rarely does anything for you in return? Evaluate the ROI of taking on work from people such as this.

  • Set clear boundaries. For example, you could create a personal policy whereby all requests for your time and effort must meet certain criteria: project visibility, revenue impact, time to completion, complexity of task, etc. Once you establish your boundaries, people are much less likely to ask you to do work outside of those boundaries.

  • Evaluate whether or not taking on the work/project meshes with your ability to achieve your goals, and if it aligns with your priorities. Don’t take on an extra project if you will be unable to devote the necessary time and resources to the projects for which you’ve been hired to execute.

  • Be polite. A simple “sorry” can often soften the blow.

Don’t apologize. Don’t be a jerk. Just say no!