Workplace 101: How To Say ‘No’ The Right Way

Business Communication 5th December 2020 Work Better Training

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When a colleague asks for a favour, without thinking and without any hesitance, your immediate response is always yes. This is because saying no doesn’t come naturally to you. You do not wish to disappoint your colleagues or feel guilty on turning them down. You want to be viewed as a ‘go-to-person’ and a ‘team player.’ However, agreeing to work on too many assignments and pitching in on too many projects, leaves you stretched and stressed, and you ultimately find yourself stuck in a tough spot. Saying no is thus vital, both to your health and the success of your organization.

So, how can you say no politely?


There are many reasons why you would want to say no to a co-worker; time constraints and unethical requests to name a few. Thus it’s imperative that you assess the request first. Think about your current duties and check if your priorities can be shuffled. See if a colleague can step in to assist you and then decide whether it’s feasible for you to help. Provide your co-worker with a brief idea about your workload as this will help gain a deeper insight into how this additional request might affect your current deliverables. Determine how interesting, engaging, and exciting the opportunity is and if it will help you grow in anyway.

Tip: When faced with a co-worker who regularly asks you to help complete their work there will be a time when you no longer want to be taken advantage of. If this is the case, take some steps toward learning how to decline a co-worker in the most diplomatic way.


Realize that by saying no, this task is going to be back in your co-workers hands. So, be empathetic and compassionate in your approach. Offer a lifeline, ask them if there are small ways you can be helpful and contribute to the project. If you’re unable to offer small favours, be sure to keep workplace optics in mind. Your co-worker might not be happy with your answer, but they will be able to tolerate it. Even in saying no, it’s important you convey the message of team spirit.


When turning something down, consider your words carefully. When saying no, use the phrase “I don’t” instead of “I can’t.” Research shows this is a more effective way of saying no. ‘‘I don’t’’ is an affirmation of your determination and willpower, while ‘‘I can’t’’ undermines your sense of power and self-efficacy.’’ Skip any use of terminology that could suggest an ‘its-not-my-job’ mentality.


Sometimes people have a nature of dismissing the request even before hearing it out, which is completely understandable. But this can also be termed unprofessional. Being professional is considered as being smart and polite, so it would be advisable to hear what the other person wants to discuss, then decide how to say no with a justifiable answer.


You could do this by either automating, sharing your calendar and to-do list with the rest of your team. If you’ve set up a daily schedule with dedicated slots for meaningful work, that’s usually a “good enough” reason for turning down more work. Be honest and transparent. If you have too much on your plate, say so. Suggest a time in the future when the project could be done. A lot of people ignore this fact but you are the person who is going to be most affected by the decisions you make in your life. If you decide to do something and fail to follow through, you’re the one who’s going to be most stressed.


When we make a specific plan before we are confronted with a request, we are far more likely to act in a way that’s consistent with our original intentions. So, rehearse how you’ll say no to your co-worker in advance. This will make you more likely to follow through when the time comes.

Remember: You have a right to say no. Don’t feel guilty for saying no. After all, if you say yes to work and you don’t have the time, resources or energy needed to produce a quality result that is more unfair to the person in question.

Learning to be selective at what you do and who you do it with, is crucial for achieving success. It’s tempting to get stuck thinking about all of the negative connotations associated with saying no but “Saying no frees you up to say yes when it matters most.’’


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