Career Advice Co-Worker Communication

How to say ‘no’ at work

Saying ‘no’ at work can be a hassle. But, there are ways you can do so without it being awkward. Here are some ways to say ‘no’ at work!

say 'no' at work

How to say ‘no’ at work

It can be challenging to say ‘no’ at work. People often believe that saying ‘yes’ at work is how you can grow from a lower to a higher position. It’s understood that saying yes refers to you being positive and that’s how one must carry themselves at a workplace. However, there are downsides to saying yes at the workplace all the time. You can come across as being a pushover by your colleagues, or openly transparent for the promotion you are eyeing.

Declining something is as essential to your professional growth as one would like to believe. It’s not even about being busy. Even if you are not, saying no often broadcasts more than just what people think it displays. How you say no plays a big role in handling the situation. However, the idea that declining something propagates negativity must be taken off your minds. You will have to be assertive, in the right ways.

First of all, there are different people at your workplace who may ask you for favors or tasks or even questions that would require you to decline something that you may be asked for. It could be your boss or your colleague, it could be your employees or people working under you like interns or part-timers, or even clients. Saying no to these people all do not fall under one category. There are different methods to approach this, and this article attempts to cover a few of these methods.

#1. How to say no to a colleague

Colleagues are often easier to interact with because there is no hierarchical difference. They are probably on the same level as you and since they are not in a higher position, it becomes easier to say ‘no’ to them.

This is a wrong idea.

For some, saying no is as hard as an ordeal by fire. Whether it may be your colleagues or your boss (this is a nightmare), saying no is something that some avoid with everything that they have. However, there are techniques that you can use to make this ordeal a lot easier.

If your colleague asks you to help them with a project that you perhaps have no idea about, or if it’s a personal request, you may be tempted to give them a benefit of the doubt and help them. However, you may be overcome with work and are not in any position to help them and are now in a position to say no to them.

However, do not lie to your colleague, or give them a lie that can get you caught. Give them part of the truth at least, “That sounds great! But, I’ll have to say no this time.” Make sure your tone is not on the offensive side, and you’re good to go!


#2. How to say no to a boss

This is where the real guns are fired. If your boss asks you to work overtime on Friday or if they ask you to take on more work when you can’t, there is no other choice. You have to say no.

This is an intimidating scenario to be in, however, it is important that you learn to communicate with your boss. Instead of shutting them down with a flat ‘no’, or getting too passive aggressive, try being earnest. Say, “Thank you for choosing me for the task, but I was planning on heading home early today.” Or “Thank you for considering me, but I am currently working on [this] project so I can’t be of much help, I’m afraid.”

This works for a whole lot of reasons. You can admit that it’s actually nice of your manager to have thought of you for the task. And this gives you a sense of what the priorities are in the office.


#3. How to say no to your employees

As a manager, you may want to be encouraging and willing to please your employees to make sure they like you. However, as tempting as this ideology may be, there will still come a point where you may have to say no.

This doesn’t mean you exert your positional power on them to say no. This will further push them away and will end up making them think of you just like the stereotypical boss—someone who always says no. If you do not want to be that person, there are better ways to handle such a situation.

You can put your message across with appreciation. Always offer them a reason to why you are declining their request, so as to make sure you do not sound stubborn or adamant when it comes to requests in general. Try saying, “Thank you for your suggestions, however, for [this] project, we will need to do it in this manner to make sure our deadlines are met with. Do let me know if you have any questions regarding this, I’ll be happy to help.”


#4. How to say no to a client

This is the hardest part of saying no, especially if you are someone who has to deal with clients. You do not want to come across as someone who demeans or ridicules the other. Saying no to a client is always a slippery slope.

You may want to bring up a fancy monologue and shove it around like it is the best thing you’ve said or thought about, however, it is never as smooth as is shown in movies. What you can do is let the client share their thoughts, from the beginning. There will be moments during their explanation where you will be tempted to cut them off in the middle and interject. However, listen to them and make note of some concerns that you can mention while saying no to them.

While saying no, enunciate on the very same issues that the client themselves have brought up. Say something like, “I am aware of your concern, and take into account that you are not on the same page. However, what you have suggested cannot work in the particular method that we are incorporating. Can I explain to you how we came to this decision? Are there other things you may want to consider?”


No one wants to be regarded as the person who always says no. It’s always a fear to stop asking the person who says no. This is because we believe that if they said no it means they will never say yes. But, it is for us to understand that saying no is just as important as saying yes, sometimes, more important. Aim for being considerate. Always take into account what is best for the company and your employees. And try to build a bridge to connect the two.

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