How to say no (the right way) at work

How to say no (the right way) at work

Your time is the most sacred and valuable asset you have. If you squander it, there’s no getting it back—so it’s up to you to protect it and spend it wisely. This is no easy task. Now, more than ever, the pressure to say “yes” to doing more with the same amount of time grows greater every day. This is why learning to say “no,” especially in the workplace, is a powerful skill in today’s world. The key, and the secret to success, is learning how to say “no” the right way. Here are three of the most common workplace scenarios where you can, and should, say “no,” and exactly how to do it.

walking to a meeting

Saying no to meetings

Yes, you can say “no” to meetings. In fact, you should say “no” to most meetings. Why? Because we have way too many of them! The excessive meeting culture in the workplace today is not only hurting your productivity, it’s hurting your company’s profits and everyone’s ability to get their work done. Everyone has one-off, and even recurring, meetings that could be safely eliminated from their day. But, because of what the kids call FOMO (fear of missing out), we say “yes” to too many meetings—meetings that we really don’t need to be a part of. We do this because we don’t want to be left out of a decision, miss the delivery of important information or feel left out. The most likely outcome of not attending these unnecessary meetings is gaining an hour in your day.

Next time you’re invited to a meeting that you think you don’t need to be a part of, send a note to the organizer politely asking what your role is in the meeting. If the answer is “oh, I just thought you would want to be a part of this,” thank them for their consideration and politely decline. Look at the attendee list and find a coworker that wouldn’t mind following-up with you after the meeting to brief you on any important details. Or, if the answer is “Bob told me to add you,” reach out to Bob as ask him what your role is in the meeting. The point here is, most unnecessary meetings are because people are afraid to leave others out. By simply asking the question “what’s my role in this meeting” you’ll be able to easily opt-out when there’s not a good answer to that question.

girl on a desk

Saying no to coworker requests

Sometimes we have to say no to requests from the people we work with. This can be especially difficult because we all want to be thought of as a team player. However, when we know that what is being asked of us is a waste of our time and resources, it’s necessary we learn to say “no.” Too often we make the mistake of saying yes to avoid the social awkwardness that comes along with declining coworkers’ requests. The key is to remember that saying “no” isn’t personal; it’s about regaining control of our own choices as to how we spend our time and energy.

In these cases, ask yourself: What is the right decision and how can I communicate it as clearly and politely as possible? For example, if you don’t have time to take on the task or the proper resources to get it done, then the right answer (for everyone) is “no.” A skillful way to do this is to sit down with the person and talk through their request and walk them through the position it puts you in if you were to say yes. You can also offer to take on the request at a later date when you can properly schedule it in. Help them understand why you’re saying no and offer to help them in the future when given proper notice. Don’t let your day get hijacked by someone else’s agenda.

Saying no to your boss

For obvious reasons, saying “no” to your boss is typically the most difficult of all scenarios. Ironically, it’s also the scenario where you can gain more respect and admiration from the most powerful people you work with. Executives don’t want the people they work with to blindly agree with everything that comes their way. Remember that you are there to do your job, and if something being asked of you makes doing your job much harder, or even impossible, say so. If you want to be respected by those above you, and be great at your job, you’ll have to say no to the people you report to sometimes.

For example, let’s say that your boss asks you to take on a project that’s clearly outside the scope of your job description, or asks you to complete a task that you know will end up being unnecessary work that will no one will review. A graceful way to handle the situation is to present your boss with the projects and tasks you’re currently responsible for and ask him or her which of them should be de-prioritized or eliminated to make room for this new request. Asking these tough questions shows that you are dedicated to the quality of the work you are currently responsible for.

Saying “no” at work with grace is a powerful skill. It’s a skill that requires practice and dedication, because you must be alert and ready to use it at all times. We’re constantly being asked to do more with less, especially at work, and so knowing how and when to use a powerful yet graceful no is more important than ever. Start small and work your way up. Your happiness, your success and your career depend on it.