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Can You really Say No at Work Without Falling into the Guilt Trap?

It must be the most challenging thing in the world to have to work as a "Yes man." Here are a few ways to say "NO" at work in a respectful manner.

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It must be the most challenging thing in the world to have to work as a "Yes man." Here are a few ways to say "NO" at work in a respectful manner.

Photo credit: benzoix

You don't have to be a people pleaser, sometimes, you need to say "no" for your benefit, so you don't lose sight of your priorities and objectives. Most individuals struggle to say no to work because they feel terrible for not assisting and not being a team member. However, saying "yes" to everything and being overworked is neither healthy nor productive.

It’s okay to say "no" sometimes because there are occasions when you might just have too much on your plate. Saying "no" is critical to your own and your company's success, but it doesn't make it any easier.

What are some negative effects of saying “Yes” all the time?


  • Saying yes to every assignment only to satisfy others would quickly burn you out.


  • You will lose your capacity to organize your day if you overwork yourself. Due to the excessive number of duties you promised to complete, you may become bewildered.


  • You will miss deadlines if you focus on helping your coworkers rather than accomplishing your responsibilities, which can be detrimental to your performance.


  • You'll receive more jobs if you say yes more often. People will begin to believe that you are always available to complete additional tasks or assist them.


When I first started my career, I was a people-pleaser. It was stressful juggling my manager's, team's, coworkers', and company's requirements with my own. Figuring out when to push back was crucial. You can't satisfy everyone, so don't fall for it. Here are five reasonable ways to say “no” to at work –

Bring up an alternative - The pandemic has taught us that working outside of your job description is the only way to stay relevant in your area and at work. You must be flexible and adaptive. I’m a big fan of being flexible and learning new things, but once it’s out of your way, you need to say no. Delegate extra tasks to people in a better position to execute or simply delete and move on. 

If a coworker begs for your assistance, but you're too busy, you may answer, "No, I'm afraid I do not have the capacity for that at the moment. I'm preoccupied with some deadlines. Please let me know if you still require assistance before the end of the week. Then I may provide my assistance. In the alternative, I propose that xxx handle this because they are better qualified for the task than I am."

Know your priorities and communicate them - Keeping track of your priorities can assist you in determining whether or not you are capable of taking on additional responsibilities. Let’s take meetings, for example - how can you get any work done if you spend more than half of your day in meetings discussing what needs to be done? Learn to decline meeting invitations when you don't have to be there. 

Begin by determining the meeting's worth. Is the meeting about something meaningful, relevant, and essential? Is it well-positioned for success because it has a defined goal and agenda? Is there any background information accessible so that attendees can be informed ahead of time? Here’s how you can politely decline - 


  • "I appreciate the invitation to this meeting. I don't believe I'm needed at this time. I'd want to send Blessing as my delegate if that's okay with you."


  • "This is going to be an important conversation.  I won't be able to attend, but I'll make time to share my opinions with you so that you may include them in the discussion."


  • "My team does not appear to be of any value based on the meeting invitation. I'm going to excuse myself after that task is completed since I have other priorities right now."


Be straightforward - When declining tasks and requests, you want to provide sound reasons, not excuses. Instead of saying "maybe" or "I don't think so," be straightforward in your answer. The way you say no is crucial; don't make the other person feel bad for approaching you for assistance. This is where emotional intelligence comes to play; you can be straightforward and be polite. Also, rather than entirely shutting down the individual, offer that you assist them at a later time when you have more time to perform higher-quality work. Try some of these - 


  • "I'm hoping you'll understand." I'd love to join you, but I'm now feeling overwhelmed with work.


  • "The timing isn't ideal just now. Could you please keep me in mind for the future?


  • "I loved assisting you the previous time, but I am now too busy to assist you."


In conclusion


  • Don’t just say no; explain the reason why.


  • Don’t use a harsh or hesitant tone, and don’t be overly polite either.


  • Don’t distort your message or act tentatively because you’re trying to keep your colleague happy.


  • Make a compromise.


  • Consider the impact of your “no”.


  • Take a moment to consider rather than react.


Written by

Eseosa Osayimwen

Excited about creating content that drives revenue, build trust and tells stories.

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