Saying “NO” at Work

You’re already swamped with responsibilities, and a co-worker approaches you to see if you can take on another project. How do you respond? Some of the more common choices are:

  • You grumble or say “no” in a way that causes tension (e.g., “Can’t you see how busy I am?”).
  • Hiding your reluctance, you agree to take on the project. (Perhaps you don’t want to create friction or let anyone down.) However, you feel resentful.
  • You stall and avoid giving an answer (e.g., “I’ll get back to you”). This gets you off the hook for the time being, but it frustrates your co-worker and doesn’t make the problem go away.

While there may be times when you want to—or need to—comply with a request, there are other times when it’s perfectly appropriate to decline. It’s okay to honestly state that you feel overwhelmed and “it’s not a good time right now.” After explaining your current situation, you can then focus on problem solving. The following strategies may help:

  • Explore how much of your time your co-worker is asking for; it may be less than you imagine.
  • Negotiate the parts of the project you can do.
  • Propose another time when you can focus productively on your co-worker’s assignment.
  • Consider suggesting alternative resources to get the project done.

Saying no to your boss is a unique situation. Since supervisors and managers are responsible for setting priorities, there are times when saying no is simply not an option. If your boss asks you to participate in a project and you feel overwhelmed, describe your current projects, the time required, and why it’s difficult to fit anadditional task into your schedule. Then you can work together to determine which projects take priority.Remember that you can respond respectfully to requests even when you cannot accommodate them.