It's Okay to Say No

John Krautzel
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"No" is one of the first words you learn in childhood, but that authoritative word gradually disappears from your vocabulary as you enter the workforce. You may be reluctant to say "no" because you want to distinguish yourself as a reliable team player. Unfortunately, burying yourself in work can stifle your long-term performance and engagement. Learn to say "no" to side jobs that weaken your productivity, and accept projects that propel your career forward.

Face Your Fears

The first step to overcoming your fear of refusal is to ask yourself why you're afraid to say "no." Competition and job security are strong motivations to take on extra work and make yourself indispensable to your bosses. You may also want to avoid the stigma of being labeled as uncooperative. In reality, business never stops with or without you, and companies dismiss employees for reasons that are completely unrelated to performance. You are more valuable to your company when you can boost the bottom line by performing at your highest potential on the tasks most suited to your skills.

Evaluate Your Workload

Workload management is part of every job, and employers generally expect you to satisfy your core duties before anything else. At the same time, bosses are not always savvy about the amount of work they're piling on, so be prepared to say "no" if optional requests may interfere with important deadlines. Avoid complaining or behaving defensively, and ask your boss to review your current workload with you. Give bosses solid evidence of the amount of high-priority tasks you're already juggling, so they can appoint someone else to the new task or temporarily relieve you of low-priority tasks.

Be a Problem-Solver

Turning down a job does not reflect poorly upon your character if you provide a solution. Make an effort to learn the strengths and duties of your co-workers, so you can suggest a fitting substitute for projects you cannot accept. Many employees appreciate being recommended for new opportunities, but always confirm your co-workers' availability to avoid overloading them.

If the project requires your expertise, try to come up with a solution that does not leave you burned out. Discuss whether the task can be delayed for a short time while you handle your most pressing duties.

Assess the Benefits

Always consider whether an extra project requires an unreasonable amount of your time and whether completing it offers future benefits for you. Lending a helping hand is often necessary to meet a client's last-minute criteria or to fix unexpected problems. However, showing unconditional eagerness may cause co-workers to habitually dump their busywork on you, and these constant favors don't sharpen your skills or help you gain promotions.

If you can spare the time, don't say "no" to opportunities that give you invaluable exposure to your target positions or increase your visibility with senior staff. Seek out side projects that teach you new skills, but limit the amount you take on at once to make sure your work shines.

The ability to respectfully say "no" helps you refine your role in the workplace and prevent co-workers from taking advantage of you. Efficient workload management requires practice, but mastering this skill makes you more experienced at delegating work and behaving like a leader.

Photo courtesy of pakorn at



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