DePaul University Career Center's Blog

It’s Okay to Say “No” in Your Workplace

Saying “no” is something that doesn’t come easy for many people. This is especially true in the workplace and even more so if you’re a new employee. We generally want to be seen as team players, and we don’t want feelings of guilt or anxiety from turning down a request made by a boss or coworker. But agreeing to help out on too many projects can have an adverse effect on the quality of work produced and can lead to unneeded stress. Learning when and how to say no in the workplace is vital, not only to one’s own career, but to the success of an organization.

Think First

Before saying “no,” take a good look at exactly why you’re saying it. Do you have a valid reason to turn down a project? Will it overburden you? Is it not aligning with your goals or values? Once you’re able to identify why you need to turn an assignment down, you can identify a strategy that will allow you to say “no” in the most effective manner possible.

Context is Key

When turning down an assignment, make sure that you’re providing context for your decision. Explain that you’re turning this down for a practical reason. If you feel that a new project will overburden you, explain what else you currently have on your plate. Say something like, “I’d love to help, but with everything I currently have going on, I feel the quality of my work may suffer.” This will let the person know that you’re not only thinking about how this will affect you but how it will affect the organization.

Provide Alternatives

It also helps to provide alternatives to the person making the request. Below are a few examples. Just make sure that whatever you tell someone is true for you.

  • Offer to help in other ways: “I can’t currently take on the full scope of what you’re asking me, but I’d love to be your sounding board to bounce ideas off of.”
  • Provide an alternative timeframe: “Can we revisit this in January when I can give this project more attention?”
  • Recommend someone for the assignment who may have more time or interest in the project: “Jane had told me that she was looking for an assignment like this. You might want to set up a meeting with her to discuss.” (Make sure that whoever you recommend is someone you’ve chatted with first.)

Be Clear

No matter how you choose to say no, remember that it’s most important to be clear in your answer. Don’t give the false impression that you might be able to help if that isn’t true. Setting up false expectations will just create ill will in the future. Don’t act tentative because you’re afraid you’ll hurt a colleague’s feelings. If you’re unambiguous with your answer, your colleague may not initially like it but they will understand.

Be Strategic

Remember to be strategic about when to say no. Turning down too many projects might lead people to stop asking you to do things. Don’t say no until you’re absolutely positive that you need to. If you don’t feel like you have enough information to evaluate if this is a project you can currently take on, never be afraid to ask your manager or coworker to provide more details. Find out exactly what will be required so that you can better evaluate the breadth of what’s being asked of you.

There’s no one right way to say no in the workplace, and it often isn’t easy. With these tips you can start thinking about what might be the best way to say no for your particular situation.

If you still have lingering questions, make sure you set up an appointment with your Career Advisor today!

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