How to say “no” to more work in the right way

How to say "no" to more work in the right way Top Line Recruiting how to say no to more work in the right way 549

How to say “no” to more work in the right way

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Do you ever feel slightly overwhelmed by what is ahead of you? You look at your list of things to do and the list is so long that you have just spent 45 minutes looking at the list wondering how you are going to tackle the day!

So you get started and then all of a sudden its half way through the morning… Then you get a cry for help from a colleague or a manager then you want to help and you know you need to help but you also know that you will be overwhelmed because you are just not going to feel like you achieve at the end of this day – but everyone else will feel great.  How do we manage this? Some of us are just more naturally equipped to say yes instead of no and we probably do this in our personal life as well.  The stresses are real!

There are some helpful tips to tackle this for the benefit of yourself and for the success of the company:

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Before you respond with a knee-jerk “no,” think about what is on your plate, whether priorities can be shuffled, or whether a colleague could step in to assist you. Do not say no until you’re sure you need to. Letting the person down making the request needs to be qualified with “context” about your workload so they can “help you evaluate the scale and scope” of what they are asking. You need to know, for instance, “Is this a small thing that won’t take too long? Or is it a longer-term project?

It is important to understand how much you’re saying no is going to cost the other person and for your counterpart to grasp the repercussions of what they are asking.


To limit frustration, be candid about why you are saying no. If you are challenged, stay steady, clear, and on message. Describing your workload and the projects on your plate by saying something like, “I would be unable to do a good a job on your project and my other work would suffer.”


To maintain a good relationship with the person you are turning down, it’s critical to “acknowledge the other side”.  Be empathetic. Be compassionate. Say something like: I realize that by saying no, this task is going to be put back in your hands. The other person might not be happy with your answer, but they will be able to tolerate it. As an alternative you can offer a lifeline by asking if there are small ways you can be helpful to assist. Perhaps you can attend brainstorming sessions, read first drafts, or simply serve as a sounding board. Even in saying no, you want to convey team spirit. If you are unable to offer small favours, be sure to keep workplace optics in mind. If you are saying you’re too busy to help, don’t cut out early and don’t be seen taking long, chatty breaks at the water cooler.

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Watch your tone and your body language when you say no.  As this may impact the relationship.  Do not stomp your feet and do not use facial expressions to express reluctance. Strive for a neutral no.

It is also vital that you do not leave your counterpart with false hope that your no could eventually turn into yes.  Be firm and determined. Otherwise, they may find a different way to ask you the same question.


Even if you follow all the steps above, you should prepare for potentially negative feedback. You can influence how the other person reacts, but you cannot control it. You need to adjust your expectations on what you hope to accomplish.  You cannot please all the people all the time! 

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Evaluate whether you have the desire and the bandwidth to help with the request and ask if priorities can be shifted or trade-offs made

Show a willingness to pitch in by inquiring if there are small ways you can be helpful to the project

Practice saying no out loud — eventually it will become easier


Use no as your go to every time – be balance in your approach

Use a harsh or hesitant tone, and don’t be overly polite either. Instead, strive for a steady and clear no

Hold back the real reason you’re saying no. To limit frustration, give reasons with good weight up front

Distort your message or act tentatively because you’re trying to keep your colleague happy. Be honest and make sure your no is understood


To get better at saying no start saying it with meaning.  This is a life skill that all parents and adults need to learn.  As a willing employee you also need to learn the strength in it. Your tone should be clear and your demeanor diplomatic. You want to say no in a way that makes people respect you. Saying no is a skill you can learn, and eventually it will become easier!




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