It’s always the best practice to be a team player at work. But sometimes you simply have too much on your plate, or other tasks are higher priority. Sometimes, you need to just say “no.”
But saying “no” isn’t always easy. You may be concerned about letting your team down or being viewed as uncooperative. You may simply be a people pleaser and struggle to let others down in any manner.
But there are a plethora of reasons why saying “no” is okay. Forbes Coaches Council mentions a task impeding your other work, having too many existing tasks on your plate, not wanting to do another worker’s work, and feeling threatened as just a few of the many reasons you may need to decline.
Accepting too much work can lead to burnout and negative mental health effects. It’s okay to say “no!” But if you struggle saying the word “no” and need a little extra guidance, follow these five principles to stay firm and guilt-free.
If you simply can’t handle a task, you need to communicate that as clearly and quickly as possible. Don’t let the fear of a backlash prevent you from expressing yourself as soon as possible. Waiting until the last minute is almost never the best interpersonal strategy.
Don’t be vague when you decline, otherwise, the person may not be sure you declined at all. Clearly state your “no,” and be direct and polite. Career coach Melody Wilding adds that apologizing and telling the truth will go a long way towards keeping things professional and your refusal being accepted.
When you decline, don’t simply say “no” and leave it at that. It’s good manners to say why you aren’t able to help with this task. Explaining yourself softens the blow of the rejection and helps the person understand your motives, Indeed explains.
You don’t need to give a drawn-out explanation, but a few clarifying sentences can make all the difference. Remember, there are plenty of good reasons to decline to accept a new task, and they don’t need to be overly complicated.
“Saying something like, “I’m so sorry. I stretched myself too thin, and I won’t be able to make it,” is sufficient.” –Melody Wilding
Come up with an alternative
Even if you plan on saying “no” to a request, there are still ways you can be a team player and offer assistance in the matter. Flexibility is the key, says Ashira Prossack.
By explaining the reason you aren’t able to help right now, you may find ways to help when those reasons are no longer a factor. If you currently have too much on your plate at the moment, that may change by the end of the week, and you might be able to offer assistance then.
Alternatively, you might offer to help with a smaller part of the project that you can currently handle. Or you might know of someone better suited to the task or an available resource that can help. Flexibility and offering to help in some small ways show you aren’t being completely dismissive and want the project to succeed.
“If you can’t do something on a specific day or time, see if there’s another timeframe that works for both you and the other person.” –Ashira Prossack, communication trainer
Choose your battles
You can’t simply decline every task that comes your way. Work will involve tasks we don’t want to do, and you don’t want to be someone who declines everything. Being respectful and choosing the right moments to say “no” will lead to your dismissal being respected.
CNN Business found that viewing tasks as “promotable” or “non-promotable” can help you view which tasks are worth making the extra time for. If a task can lead to career advancement or increasing your skills, it might be worth making extra time and saying “yes”.
“Think more strategically on what is the non-promotable work that really makes sense for you to spend your time… find out where yours makes the most sense.” –CNN Business
Ultimately, you may have to compromise. It’s not always possible to completely say no, but if you’ve been direct and respectful, you may find a solution or timeframe that better meets your needs.
But don’t be a pushover
But a compromise isn’t a full “yes.” You might be flexible and offer help another time, but you’ve still said “no” to their current needs, and you can feel confident in that. Indeed says if you immediately cave and completely give in, your coworkers will know they can get you to reverse your stance in future conflicts.
Ask A Boss’ Alison Green reminds us that it’s important to know how to set boundaries. It’s good to be helpful and flexible, but if you feel your time is being taken advantage of, you need to stand your ground—especially in cases when it feels like you’re being asked to do someone else’s work. Accept this and recognize when to comprise and when to stay firm.
It isn’t always easy to say “no,” and none of us want to seem unhelpful. But there are plenty of good reasons to say “no” to accepting more work. Make sure that you respond clearly and explain yourself, and try to be flexible when you can. You won’t always be able to say “no,” but if you choose your battles carefully, no one will be able to blame you for being firm when it counts.