For most people, saying “no” at work isn’t something that comes naturally.
You know that saying “yes” to a new project, responsibility, or idea is generally a good way to earn the appreciation and attention of your boss. However, while there are plenty of things that you might say yes to in your career, there are also times when you’ll need put the brakes on a request.
When you’re too busy, too overwhelmed, or you feel that the project isn’t right for your skill set, it’s important to know how you can say “no” to people you work with in a way that’s both diplomatic, and productive.
The way you phrase your ‘no’ and the things that you do demonstrate your engagement to your boss and can have a significant impact on how people perceive you. The trick is to find out how you can adjust your responses to get the results you need, without having to say the word “no”.
Step 1: Assess the Request
Before you start thinking about how to say “no” to the people in your office, it’s worth thinking carefully about the request, and what it could mean for your future. Consider the things that you already have on your plate, and ask yourself whether priorities can be shuffled around, or whether you might be able to ask a colleague to help you.
Sometimes, making the extra effort to say yes, even when you’re feeling a little snowed under, can be a great way to open the door to new opportunities in your profession. Evaluate all the different workarounds you might be able to use before you settle on that solid “no, thank you.”
Step 2: Offer a Lifeline
If you’ve considered all the options, and you need to say no, then show your company leaders that you care about their needs by offering alternative solutions. For example:
- If you don’t have enough time to take on another task, consider asking whether the deadline can be extended while giving your boss an insight into some of the other challenges you have piling up on your plate. This could help you come to a solution that suits both of you.
- If you feel that you’re not right for the project, suggest a colleague who you believe has the right skill set. Offer to work with your colleague provided they lead giving you the opportunity to learn in a supporting role. This shows initiative, and could also mean that you don’t have quite as much weight on your shoulders.
- If you don’t agree with the approach your business is taking, offer a different solution. For instance, say “How about we do this instead…”. Back up your suggestion with facts and information based on what you know about the situation or client in question.
Step 3: Ask for Help
No matter your position or career choice, there’s likely to be a time in your future when you’re asked to tackle a project that you just don’t feel capable of handling.
However, asking for a little help to get you through a difficult task, could be a great way to make sure that you give your boss a favourable impression of your work ethic while embracing new skills for your future.
If you’re not sure how to handle something alone, then don’t be afraid to ask for help. Whether that means asking your boss to help you prioritise your time, or turning to one of your fellow team-members for guidance using a new piece of software, or strategy.
Decide out what you need to excel in the current situation, then ask for it.
Step 4: Be Clear and Straightforward
If, after some careful assessment, you still feel that saying “no” is the right course of action, the best thing you can do is be honest about your situation, and your reasoning. Holding back and refusing to tell your boss what’s really bothering you about a new opportunity, could lead to further frustration when your team leader tries to find a solution to your problem.
To avoid unnecessary issues, be candid about what has prompted you to say no. If your reasoning is challenged, make sure that you stick to your message, and stay clear about your concerns.
For instance, if you’re worried about not having enough time for a new task, you could say: “I wouldn’t be able to do a good job with my current schedule, and that means my other projects would suffer too.”
Step 5: Adjust Your Expectations
Finally, even if you’ve followed the steps outlined above carefully, it’s important to be prepared for a negative response.
Sometimes, the colleague, client, or executive that you’re saying “no” to won’t be happy with your response. However, most of the time, this won’t mean that you’re burning bridges for your future. Focus on maintaining a professional attitude, and remember that you can’t please everyone.
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