The Argument Against Saying “No”

How many times have you heard the advice “Just say no”? You tell someone you’re really busy at work, that you are working long hours and are exhausted and they think they are being helpful by telling you to say no.

You know what occurs to me when I say that? “How I am supposed to keep my job, if I say no all the time? Where does teamwork come into all of this if I am constantly saying no, leaving it up to my coworkers to pick up the work that I decide I’m too busy to do?”

I think there is a lot of misunderstanding about what it means to say no. The reality is that in an admin position we often can’t say no or we will be seen as uncooperative and not a team player.

Manager: “Rhonda, when FedEx arrives with the package can you please bring it in to me immediately?”

Admin: “No, I can’t. I’m taking minutes in the finance meeting this morning.”

That would seem like the perfect situation in which to say no. After all, you can’t be in two places at once. But here, the manager doesn’t get what she wants and no alternatives are offered to her. So is it really an option?

Naturally, when we are asked to do things that are widely outside the scope of our responsibilities, we do have right to say no. However, the reality of being an admin today is that we have to cope with conflicting priorities and job responsibilities that are constantly changing. And it’s likely to stay that way for many years to come.

The first thing is to get over thinking you need to say no. In fact, it probably isn’t in your best interests to say no.

But what you can do is divert, redirect and prioritize, while ensuring a win-win outcome. The win-win is that you end up having time to do everything you need to do and the new task still gets done.

Rather than saying no, trying asking your boss one of these questions instead:
– What is the priority on this?
– Can it wait until this afternoon or until after my meeting is over?
– I’m working on X at the moment; is this more important than X or should it wait until I’m finished Z for you?
– Are you okay if I pass that off to someone else to do?
– Can I check into a couple of options and get back to you about it?
– Yes, but…

Naturally, you can’t use all of these options every time, and none of them are really about saying no. What you are doing is allowing yourself to prioritize the new task with your current workload so you are a little more in control.

“Rhonda, can you please make sure that when FedEx arrives with the package this morning you bring it in to me immediately?”

“I will be in the finance meeting taking minutes this morning, but I can ask the receptionist to bring it to you as soon as it comes in. Is that okay?”


“I will be in the finance meeting, taking minutes. Do you want me to briefly step out of the meeting?”


“What time do you need the package? The finance meeting is over at 11:30. Can I bring it in to you then?”

Teamwork is important, and saying no often isn’t the answer at all. Find creative ways to prioritize your workload and create a win-win situation.

We typically go to the busiest person in the office to get things done, because that person gets things done—and often that person will be you. However, everyone has her limits. You can remain an invaluable part of the team by being assertive, showing some boundaries and still ensuring the work gets done, even if it isn’t you doing it.

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One thought on “The Argument Against Saying “No””

  1. I had someone ask me to do an absurdly simple task–well within his capability of doing, and something that everyone else did for themselves. My way of “saying no” was to inform him that I was currently working on two high priority projects. If he were willing to wait a week for this task to be done, I would be happy to do it for him. He did it himself.

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