Work is busy and you are barely keeping up with the heavy demands and upcoming deadlines. Your boss steps into your office asking for a “quick minute” to ask you a question. “Would you be able to take on an extra project? It is important to the department and everyone else is too busy. “

NO, you want to scream. But you answer with a smile and a cheerful “YES!, I would be glad to.” That is because you are a team player, the go to person, the one who can be counted on and the one who was to chicken to say, NO!

How do you say no to extra work while still maintaining your branding and not offending the asking party? Here are four tools to help you get a backbone, while still being seen as an engaged and hard working employee.

First, realize that saying no does not come naturally to most individuals. Karen Dillon, coauthor of the book “How Will You Measure Your Life?” teaches that “agreeing to work on too many assignments and pitching in on too many projects leaves you stretched and stressed. Saying no is vital to both your success and the success of your organization.”   Just ask the person who walked out the door at 5:15 pm and you still have two hours of work.

Second, be sure and take a moment to assess the request. Rebecca Knight in a Harvard Business Review article shared that it is important for you to think about what’s on your plate, and whether priorities can be shuffled or a colleague can step in to assist you. By understanding the context of what is required and how much work you are being asked to do can help you make a wise decision.

Third, if you have to say no be upfront, straightforward and honest. If you offer excuses that are not persuasive or honest they can come across as insincere and disingenuous. Karen Dillon suggests saying, “I would be unable to do a good job on your project and my other work will suffer.” It is important to have a script in your mind.

Fourth, don’t be too nice and don’t be too mean. You don’t want to leave with the individual thinking you might change your mind. Close the door so they understand it won’t reopen. Be careful of individuals who, like an octopus, try to grab you one tentacle at a time. “Just help me with this one small thing” can turn into you owning the whole project!


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If you want more information on this topic go to my podcast episode 125

125 How to Say No At Work


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