Corporate Communication: How to Politely Say “No” at Work

How to Politely Say No at Work

Saying no might be scary, but it can be the difference between loving your job and feeling burnt out. 

Working in an office brings up a lot of challenges, from how to manage a work-life balance, making friends at the workplace to juggling all the different tasks you need to accomplish. Imagine not being even close to the finish line for one of your projects, and suddenly, you get a message from your boss who has just handed you another task. 

Most of us would just resign ourselves to working overtime to get that task done. However, is that really good for our mental health and the right precedent to set for our work capacity? The answer’s no—but it’s hard to say “no”, isn’t it? There is always a nagging feeling that your boss and your peers might think you are not a team player or are just too hard to work with. Well, we are here to help you. Here are some polite ways you can refuse additional work that you can’t handle: 

Justify your answer

Whenever you think you need to say no at work, try to justify it with reasons why you cannot take on more work. Explaining your position can help others see your perspective and will dismiss any doubt about the validity of your refusal. So let’s say your boss is asking if you can take on another project, you can explain that you are still far from finishing the previous one (if that is the case). This will also give your employer a better idea of how much work you have on your plate so that they can reassess what to send your way. 

Suggest an alternative

One of the alternatives to saying a flat-out no is to instead say something along the lines of,  “ I don’t think I have the bandwidth to take on another project right now, would it be okay if I get started on it next week?” This will help you come across as helpful and eager to work even though you are refusing to accept the task at the moment. You can also suggest an alternative person to take on the task or even offer to do a small part of it. 

Don’t be too nice 

While the previous suggestions can make you come across as nice and polite, it is important not to be too nice so that people might misunderstand it. If you sound too flexible or malleable, then your co-worker or boss may end up mistaking it for an “almost yes”. It would give them the impression that if they push you more, you might change your mind. So make sure you come across as neutral and are mindful of your tone and body language. 

Practice before you communicate 

Much like any other skill, it is crucial to practice how to say no as well. Often, if the task comes out of nowhere or at a particularly stressful time, you wouldn’t know how to respond and might end up saying something that comes out standoffish or rude. Thus, it is important that you practice and notice how you sound. Make sure your tone comes across as clear and diplomatic. 

Examples of how to say no

We have already given you some tips and examples, but here are some more quick references you can use in a pinch

  • “I’m sorry, but I don’t have more time on my schedule this week.”
  •  “I would love to take that on, but unfortunately, I don’t think I’m the right fit for this task.”
  •  “Sure, I’d be happy to do it, but I have X, Y and Z to take care of. Would you please let me know which tasks I should prioritize?” 
  • “Sorry, but I’ve already committed to something else right now, would you like some help in finding another person to take the task on?”

Even if you follow these suggestions, there is a high possibility that you might sometimes end up in situations where saying no just won’t work. You might also end up getting negative feedback. As Holly Weeks, the author of Failure to Communicate, says, “You can influence how the other person reacts, but you can’t control it.” 

It is important to know that your attempts at setting personal boundaries might not be taken well. Yet, this is not to say that you shouldn’t even make an attempt. Rather, it is indispensable that you try to say no because knowing your boundaries and limits is a workplace survival skill and can also make you a better team player. 

Header image courtesy of Freepik


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