Saying No at Work: 5 Tips to do it without Guilt and Fear

You are a friendly person, and your work is good too.

No wonder you’re the go-to person on the floor! You enjoy the attention but…but things are not the same.


You end up getting a lot on your plate. You are falling behind your To-Do list!

You thought about turning down a task or two but had second thoughts.

"Am I being selfish? Could I seem too proud to be approached? They will think that I am not a team player!"

Bottom line? You feared losing out on an opportunity or missing recognition. So, you kept saying yes. And work kept coming, coming like a flood!

Now some folks sacrifice quality when they have more to do. But that’s not you! Instead, you work harder and longer. You drag work home and on weekends. You push out personal items rather than deliver a half-cooked report.

Before you know, this has become a routine. A routine that pours in stress and kicks the balance out of your life. And the end is nowhere in sight! You are feeling like driftwood in the fast lane — seemingly progressing but hardly in control!

Your colleagues may make you feel like a superman, but you know your limits — we all have them. This frenzy can’t go on. But is there a way out or are you in a catch-22

"Either I say yes and overcommit, or I say no and break the bridge!"

Thankfully, this dilemma is not real!

You can say no and still have a great relationship with colleagues. Saying no tactfully is crucial for your long-term success and even that of your team.

Granted, it is difficult. But it is not rocket science either! You can develop the habit with these five proven tips.

Saying No at Work: 5 Tips to do it without Guilt and Fear

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Tip #1: Give the Bad News a Soft Landing

You know the terrible feeling when a colleague turns down your request. Likewise, when you say no it is bad news to your colleague.

How you say is more important than what you say. The tone of your voice always matters but when saying no it is paramount!

Be polite and kind. Let your soft tone show that you understand the inconvenience to your colleague. The right voice tone will boost your chances of being heard and understood.

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Tip #2: Replace the Blunt No Graciously

Nobody got thrilled on a blunt no — you and I included. Luckily, we have other ways to say no without being rude.

Say sorry when the request is part of your job. You can also say sorry for the inconvenience to your colleague.

Good Example: Sorry, Sam. I am badly tied up today.

Offer thanks when the request is a direct or indirect recognition of your expertise. Present a warm thank you with a smile — it will add grace to your no!

Good Example: Thanks for the compliment, Sam but…

Tip #3: Say No to Task but Yes to Your Colleague

Colleagues approach when they have a problem. Unfortunately, when you are busy they are left high and dry! It doesn’t have to be like this.

Is there a way for your colleague to progress without your full involvement? Think hard; even a simple suggestion shows that you care!

Good Example: Sorry, I am busy; but you may want to check with Teena (or check the FAQ document on the shared drive).

Saying no is not the same as saying never. If you’re working on a priority task you don’t have to drop it. But how about giving your next availability?

Good Example: I’m occupied with few things right now. If you still need help by the end of the week, please let me know. I would be happy to help then.

Tip #4: Use the Power of Justification

None of us want to be bad people. So, we end up saying yes when we want to say no!

Overcome this barrier by sharing your challenge with colleagues. Keep it short and plain. Instead of stopping at “I can’t help”, go ahead, add because to state your reason.

The word because has psychological power that improves the chances of agreement.

Good Example: My plate is full because my project is going live this week / I must visit my kid’s school this afternoon.

Tip #5: Overcome Push Back Assertively

Your colleagues are likely to insist rather than accept your no at first. The two-fold danger here!

Due to pressure, you lessen your stand. That is enough for your colleagues to sense an opening. Or, you respond with aggression putting your relationship at risk.

Here, aim to be polite but firm by repeating the narrative with an even tone. It is the Broken-Record technique as you are ready to recite your decision and rationale.

Good example: The last thing I want is to turn you away but unfortunately…

Over to You!

Quality of work and good people connect — I bet you value both.

Now you know that we can balance the two.

I wish I knew these tips earlier in my career. Unknowingly, I used to take on more devaluing my time and priorities.

When practicing saying no, it helps to be extra alert. It is shocking how often we say yes implicitly. Practice saying no on such incidents.

Imagine being assertive yet polite when approached on a busy Monday morning. Visualize turning down your colleague respectfully as you briefly state your reason.

Soon you will enjoy superior control of your workload. Your confidence in keeping commitments and helping your colleagues will soar. You will look forward to work again!

You can do this. Act now. You deserve nothing less!

Viraj Almeida
Featured Uplyrn Expert
Viraj Almeida
Corporate Trainer, Performance Consultant, Certified Life Coach
Subjects of Expertise: Soft Skills, Managerial Skills, Leadership Development
Featured Uplyrn Expert
Viraj Almeida
Corporate Trainer
Performance Consultant
Certified Life Coach

Subjects of Expertise

Soft Skills
Managerial Skills
Leadership Development

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