The Appropriate Way to Say No at Work

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It can be very difficult to say no to your boss or a co-worker at work. However, occasionally you will have to say no, so learning how to say it will definitely help you. You certainly shouldn’t make a habit of saying no; you must pick your battles wisely. You don’t want your co-workers, and especially your boss, to think you have a bad attitude. Still, you need to be confident enough to say no when necessary.

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You can learn to say no in a respectful manner by avoiding anger, swearing, flat out saying no (with no explanation), or blaming someone, particularly your boss. It can be difficult to navigate social relationships at work, and saying no can make unstable relationships even shakier and might make you fear for your job. Still, if you can’t say no, you will end up being walked all over by your co-workers and possibly your boss.

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Not all bosses or co-workers will take advantage of your inability to say no, but many will. Companies face a lot of deadlines, and employees who never say no will certainly face their share of added work. You should make a habit of saying yes regularly, but sometimes saying no can be a good thing. Saying no in a respectful manner will show your co-workers and boss that you are confident and know your own limits, but that you take your company’s time seriously as well. Some projects are impossible to avoid, even if you have a lot going on outside of work, so you have to be careful about how and when you say no.

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Be sure that you speak with the person asking for your help in person. No matter how well intentioned your email is, there are far too many ways for the recipient to take it the wrong way. If you do receive a request through email, seek out the person and answer them face-to-face.

Sometimes you will have to work overtime, particularly if you are salaried. The Fair Labor Standards Act does not limit the amount of hours that employees aged 16 and up can be required to work. Understand that you will often need to work on time-consuming projects and be willing to help others regularly. If you often put extra work in and show a good attitude, it won’t be as detrimental if you have to say no sometimes.

Naturally, a plain “no,” will probably not sit well with your boss, and your co-workers will resent you for it even if they have no way of penalizing you. Your best bet is to try to work out an alternative solution to the problem, or find a different way you can help.

If you are working on a project that is essential to your company, try to explain to your boss how much time it will take you, and ask if you could wait until you finish the other project, or take a smaller role in the project. If you make it clear that you are doing something that is extremely important to the company, your boss might understand. If you are dealing with a co-worker, asking if there is another way you can assist will allow you to seem eager to help, without taking on more than you can handle.

If something really difficult is going on in your personal life, you might be tempted to mention that too. Although a sympathetic boss or co-worker might be understanding, this will only be the case if you don’t overplay the personal difficulty card. People want to know that you are okay, but they don’t want to know every time you have a misfortune. Besides, even when you do have trouble outside of work, work still has to get done.

If you are feeling particularly overwhelmed or emotional because of the amount of work you have on your plate, or because of something completely unrelated to work, you don’t have to answer immediately. Explain politely to whoever is asking for your help that you have to finish a project or go to a meeting; just be as honest as possible. Then when you have time to sit down and think about how much time the project will take, and what it will require of you, you can give an answer. Just don’t wait too long or you risk looking like you’re avoiding the request all together.

One thing you should take into account when deciding whether or not to tackle a request is what the consequences will be if you don’t. If the request is coming from your boss and it was asked in a manner that alerted you to it’s importance, you should find a way to do it, even if you have to ask for extra time. Even if your co-worker asked you, and it doesn’t seem important, you might miss out on an important skill building or relationship building opportunity. If the project involves a meeting or presentation, you also might miss out on a chance to network.

If you really have to say no, you can find someone else who might be able to help. If you are drowning in reports, but you know someone on your team who just mentioned the other day that they are experiencing a slow period, ask them if they could help. You shouldn’t just pass on the responsibility, but you can certainly try to find someone to help.

Lastly, maintain good relationships with your boss and co-workers. Although no matter how close you are to the people you work with, it will be difficult to say no sometimes, having good relationships will help. There are many ways you can build friendly relationships, and one of the first ways is by being honest. Most people will respect you and appreciate it if you tell them the truth about your availability. You should also communicate regularly (don’t hide out in your cubicle the entire day), be likable, find common interests, and be kind and friendly to co-workers at all levels.

It isn’t easy to say no at work, but you can become more confident and better at it by being honest, choosing your timing wisely, and trying to help as much as possible. Your co-workers and your boss will appreciate you for it, and you will be less likely to get in trouble when you do have to say no.

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