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Is it Okay to Say No at Work? Sometimes

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July 17, 2019
Author: Lorman Education


One of the hardest things to do is say no to your boss. In most cases, you are expected to say yes to whatever you are asked to do. However, sometimes it is okay to say no. In fact, sometimes it is a very good idea to say no. Saying yes cements your reputation and helps you get more responsibilities. Saying no, in the right way, can protect you from burnout and overload. If you are the boss, sometimes you have to say no to an employee who's ideas are good but unworkable.

Here are some situations in which it is okay to say no:

  1. The task falls outside your actual responsibilities. You should keep track of what is expected of you and be willing to turn down a task that does not fit your goals. It may, in fact, distract you from the things you need to be doing.
  2. You are not qualified, or the best qualified, to complete the task. This often comes up when a coworker asks for your help. In some cases there may be another person in the office who would do a much better job.
  3. You find yourself responding to messages and emails routinely when at home or off the clock. Unfortunately, some employers expect this kind of 24/7 availability, but it is bad for your mental health, your social life, and your family.
  4. The deadline is unrealistic, especially if it is also unnecessary. Learning to prioritize is important, but some people will ask for very tight deadlines on low priority tasks.
  5. The way you are asked to do the task is ineffective, often because it is the way it was always done.
  6. The suggested idea has already been demonstrated not to work, perhaps before the person suggesting it joined the team.
  7. The meeting you have been asked to go to is a complete waste of time. One survey by the Harvard Business Review found that 65% of senior managers felt that meetings interfered with their work and 71% said they were unproductive and inefficient.
  8. You are already swamped by other tasks.

So, how do you effectively say no without becoming known as a naysayer? Here are a few tips:

  1. Be honest. Don't make fake excuses. If the reason you are saying no is because you are being asked to do something you are bad at, admit it. If you promised the evening to your wife, be honest. (If your employer has a pattern of not seeing that as a good reason it may be time to shop your resume).
  2. Suggest an alternative. If somebody is trying to pull you away from your desk for a meeting ask if they can go over it in email, or ask to see the agenda, which at least will make sure somebody has thought about what the meeting is about. If you are saying no because the way things are done is inefficient, be ready with a suggestion to improve them. If you think somebody else is better qualified, say so, or better yet contact that person yourself.
  3. If you are saying no because you are swamped or trying to preserve your work-life balance, say so and say what you are doing instead. If the new project is really that important, they may be able to take something else off of your desk or push it to the backburner.

As humans, we are predisposed to say yes to things. When there is a power dynamic involved, we are even more inclined to agree first and then think about it later. Learning to assess whether you should say yes, and how to say no graciously, is an important skill in work and in life in general. For more information about learning to say no and other business training issues, contact Lorman Education Services today.


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