How to Say No At Work (and win respect while doing it)

woman at work how to say no at work

Accepting stretch assignments at work is good for your career. They provide you with growth and sponsorship opportunities. Extra work allows you additional space to flex your muscles and show your boss and team what you are capable of.

Those are good aims. However, at a certain point, you must learn how to say no at work.

To excel in your role, you need to  take on extra work that is a healthy challenging stretch (a bit uncomfortable), but you also need to learn to say no if it will cause your performance to deteriorate.

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What is the right way to say no?

It has to be framed within the right context.

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Context is important

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It is important to understand the context of the request and the context of your position.  Example, if you are an intern, you pretty much don’t have many ‘No’s’ in your back pocket. However, if you are a seasoned and trusted contributor in your company, and your reasons are valid, you should be able to respectfully push back.

Secondly, approach the ‘no’ in a positive and helpful way, it must be framed correctly.

Provide a thoughtful and logical response, because you do not want to come across as ‘lazy’. If your boss can appreciate your perspective then they will accept you rationale when you say ‘no’.  Later on in this post we outline how to go about this.

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Good Possible Reasons to Say ‘No’ At Work

  • You are working on key projects with no capacity left (even if you put in extra hours it will not suffice)
  • Your current projects will suffer drastically if you split your focus now
  • You are unable to delegate your current work to make space for the new project

Terrible Reasons to Say ‘No’ at Work

  • It is not in your job description (BIG NO NO!!)
  • You have a lot going on in your personal life and cannot deal with this right now

Once you determined that you have a valid reason to say no, this is how to go about it.

Related Post: How to Deal With a Bad Boss

How to Say No At Work (and win respect while doing it)

Clarify your other responsibilities

Share which other projects you are currently working on with imminent deadlines. However, communicate when you will be able to take it on (provide a reasonable next date) and provide it the right level of attention.

This way you are showing that you not just bluntly saying no. You do want the project but just not right now.


Share with your boss how you have currently prioritised your workload and deliverables. Your boss may request you to prioritise a new deliverable.

If this happens, it’s important to have clarity of expectations. Ensure that you both agree which project becomes the priority. Get it in writing if need be (a ‘to confirm our discussion email’ would suffice).

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Offer an alternative and help solve the problem

You want to maintain your reputation of someone who is a star player, and so its important to be genuinely helpful.

Remember, when your boss approaches you to drive a project, you can’t go laying down your problems.

Offer the following solutions:

  • Take up the project at a later date if its workable (as per the above)
  • You can offer to contribute in another way, e.g. take a piece of the project instead of the whole piece
  • You can suggest a colleague who you know is keen to get involved in the specific topic (however be a good colleague and check with them first)
  • Request resources: could be additional time from someone else
  • Alternatively, just push through if you really cannot find a work around (but this should not be a common occurrence)

In Closing

It is important to take a solution oriented approach to saying no at work. Always lead with positivity and remember the main goal is always to deliver strong performance.

Chime in. Do you feel okay saying ‘no’ at work?

Further Reading: 7 Things A Working Mother Wants to Tell Her Boss




Author: Cherralle

Mom, wife and career loving parent. This blog focus on career and work life topics for mothers.

6 thoughts on “How to Say No At Work (and win respect while doing it)”

  1. Thank you for this post. Based on these reasons I would now definitely feel comfortable saying no for absolutely valid reasons. I’m glad you added in the bit about saying no because “it’s not in your job description”. Too many people make that mistake.

    1. Thank you Tracy. It’s a tough one but it’s very doable if all parties are mature about it.

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