Know When to Say “No”

A supplement to an article titled “No Your Limit” published in the May/June edition of OfficePro magazine, written by Gail Allyn Short

When managers ask subordinates to take on an assignment, it is often a sign of their confidence in an employees’ abilities and reliability. The same goes for when colleagues ask each other for help.

But sometimes those extra assignments can cause an employee to become less reliable if the workload becomes too burdensome. That can cause the quality of an employee’s work to falter or they are forced to work an insane amount of hours just to get caught up on their to-do list. 

All of it can lead to increased stress and anxiety. 

“We have a team of more than 100 people, and one of the most important factors for keeping the organization moving forward is meeting deadlines,” says Michael Alexis, CEO of TeamBuilding. “When our leadership team delegates projects, we’re open to hearing ‘no.’

“If the employee doesn’t have bandwidth to take on the project, or there’s some other barrier, then we can find ways to work around this,” says Alexis. “If the employee says ‘yes’ and then doesn’t follow through, it results in both disruptions to larger projects and wasted time and energy. With this framework, saying ‘no’ every now and then is actually pretty good teamwork.”

Consequently, a reliable professional must know when to say “no” to extra work to ensure they carry out all of their responsibilities. 

But having that conversation with a boss or coworker can be daunting. To help, Patti Blackstaffe, leadership coach, consultant and the CEO of GlobalSway, offers these tips. 

Respectfully decline external forces “If you have requests from someone outside your chain of command,” says Blackstaffe, “you can say, “What a terrific opportunity. Thank you. However, this request would fail to get the attention it deserves if I balance it with all that I have at hand. Can I refer you to someone who may have the capacity to take this on?”  

Another option is to ask, “How soon are you expecting delivery of this? I appreciate the opportunity, I am stretched right now, but if you can wait, I may be able to deliver down the road.”

Prioritize and balance internal forces “If the request is from your direct boss or the boss’ boss, you may feel pressured to load it on top without complaint,” she says, “but there are ways of easing the burden. Depending on the leadership style and personality of the manager, you could give a delayed response like, ‘Of course. Can we meet in 30 minutes so I can take a quick look at my current load?” That way one can let the manager know what assignment you might have to postpone to tackle the new task.”

Giving an immediate response with honesty is also an alternative, she says. “You can say, ‘I have these five things in the hopper right now. While I appreciate that you need this by the end of the day, to maintain my deliverables, I cannot provide this to you until Thursday.’” 

Blackstaffe says that one could also give a more collaborative response by saying: “I have these five things in the hopper right now, each of which will take four hours. Out of these five priorities, which two could I delay to take this on for you right now?”

Her other tips:

Remove emotion from the table. While one may feel offended at being asked to do extra assignments, she says, the truth is, others do not know what is on your plate. Therefore do not assume that others are trying to break you.

Always choose self-respect. “You know what you can and cannot manage, so be willing to say ‘no.’” she says. “People-pleasing rarely results in respect, but self-respect garners respect from others.”


OfficePro Magazine is an award-winning publication from IAAP. Each issue is filled with useful content, special offers, and association information.

About the author: Gail Allyn Short is a freelance journalist based in Birmingham, Alabama. She writes about business, education and lifestyles.

3 thoughts on “Know When to Say “No”

  1. This is really all common sense and never takes into consideration the types of people we all work with. Now that would be a good article.


  2. Pingback: Just Say No – The Introverted Admin

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