Back To Career News

5 Tips For When You Have to Say No at Work (Without Alienating the Boss)

Topics: Career Advice
Stressed worker
Image Credit: Pexels /

Do you feel stretched too thin at work? If the quality of your work – or your quality of life – is suffering because you’re overloaded, it might be time to pull back a little. But as we all know, it isn’t always easy to say no at work.

A lot of people feel stressed because of their jobs, which is to be expected – to an extent – in our modern culture of overwork. However, stress can take a real toll, so it’s something that ought to be recognized and addressed, not ignored. One pretty simple way to do this is cut back a little at work, or at least start saying no when asked to take on something new. That said, you have to be careful when you decline additional work or tasks at your job; You don’t want to alienate the boss or hurt your professional reputation. With that in mind, here are some tips for saying no at work:

Provide a thoughtful explanation

In your personal life, you might be in the habit of saying no pretty quickly and without a long, drawn-out explanation. This is often a good way to handle it when you have to turn down an invitation. But things are a little different when you want to say no to a work request. In this situation, it’s better to provide a thoughtful explanation. Be brief but specific. You could try explaining why you don’t feel you’re the best fit for the task, for example. You might even want to provide an alternative or some suggestions if you have any. Even though you are saying no, your boss will appreciate that you took the time to really think about the request.

Do You Know What You're Worth?

Keep emotions out of it

When you’re saying no to a request from your boss, it isn’t the time to talk about how frustrated or overwhelmed you’ve been feeling lately. You should schedule a separate meeting to talk about these kinds of things. It might be better not to bring them up in the context of any one specific issue or request. Instead, keep emotions out of it. Ideally, you want to say no because the task isn’t a good fit for you, not because you can’t manage it. Taking this kind of pragmatic approach ought to help protect your reputation.

Explain what you’ll be doing instead

There are ways you can explain your situation to your boss if you really do feel like you’re too busy to take on anything else. Simply explain what you’ll be doing instead. You can say that you’d really like to say yes, but that your plan is to spend the week working on x, y and z. But do keep in mind that your boss might ask you to back-burner one of those tasks and take on this new project instead.

Say yes to what you can

Sometimes it’s possible to say no without really saying no. Let’s say your boss asks you to help train a new employee, and you’d like to pass. Instead of saying, “I can’t. I am just so busy right now. I can’t possibly take on anything else or I’ll totally lose it.” Try saying yes, in part. “I think someone else might be better at this because I’m still working on learning the new system myself. But please let him know that I would be happy to answer any and all questions about client meetings. I love those, and I feel really strong in that area.”

Say thank you

Expressing gratitude can improve your career in all kinds of ways. It helps you be more positive in the present and more optimistic about the future too. If you’re turning down a request at work, it’s a great time to express appreciation. Try to go a little further than a simple, “thanks for thinking of me, but no thanks.” Instead, say that being asked means a lot to you and explain why. Perhaps it’s because you really care about this aspect of the business. Or, you appreciate that your boss felt that you were the right person from the job. It’ll be easier to say no without doing any professional damage if you express your sincere gratitude while you’re doing it.

Tell Us What You Think

Is it difficult for you to say no at work? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.


Leave a Reply

Notify of
What Am I Worth?

What your skills are worth in the job market is constantly changing.