How to say No

No isn't easy
No isn’t easy

Don’t you hate it when you complain to a colleague about having too much work to do and their response is, “just say no!”

It really isn’t that easy, is it? And honestly, I think that saying no isn’t always the smartest thing to do.

I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding about what it means to say no. The reality is that in a support 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?”

Rhonda: “No, I can’t. I’m busy with payroll this morning.”

The manager doesn’t get what she wants and no alternatives are offered to her. Not really an option, is it?

Naturally, when we’re asked to do things that are widely outside the scope of our responsibilities, we do have the right to say no.  However, the reality of being in a support position 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 have 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.

Try these options instead of saying no:

–       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 it 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 getting all the payroll documents completed, but I can ask the receptionist to bring it to you as soon as it comes in. Is that okay?”


“What time do you need the package? Payroll cutoff is 11:00. Can I bring it in to you after that?”

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.



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