7 ways to say no in the workplace without burning bridges

How to say no at work.


Saying no in the workplace is one of the things most professionals struggle with especially when dealing with their bosses. The thought of saying no to colleagues, bosses, and even clients has left many employees stressed and afraid to disappoint as it always feels like the wrong answer. This in return has left many employees with an overwhelming workload, lack of work-life balance, burnouts, and generally employees who are unhappy in their careers. 

Employees at every level in the organisation need to embrace the power of saying no instead of being afraid to say it and shun away from always looking at it from a negative perspective. Saying no gives one the power to be in control of their professional life, set boundaries, and also highlight the value of their time. It is a skill that comes with career growth and with perks such as a less stressful life and a healthy workplace. Below are some helpful tips on how to say no without damaging professional relationships;

  1. Be  confident, firm and respectful

While saying no as a response, one needs to present it with confidence and not in a way that shows uncertainty. Decisiveness should be felt by avoiding answers such as I will try or I will think about it. Respect should also be considered as you are turning down a request by being appreciative of the request invite and apologise for being unable to heed to it.

2. Propose alternative

It is advisable to have a conversation and not just leave no as a one-word answer. One way to achieve this is by proposing alternatives. In a scenario where your boss has fronted you for a particular task and you are unable to take on extra work with a tight schedule, It would be ideal to suggest a colleague who can do it or assist you explaining the reasons why you cannot take on extra work or why you need help in doing it. This shows a  proactive approach to solving issues.

3. Clarify on priorities

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With numerous time-sensitive tasks awaiting and individual, it is important to focus on completing the important ones first. So, what happens when a colleague or even your boss makes a request while in the middle of completing a time pressing task? Just clarify what you are currently working on and be sure to explain the sensitivity in terms of time and Importance. This forces the one making the request to evaluate it in ways that suit them like getting another person to do the task or assigning it at a later date.

4. Tell the truth

Consider a situation where you have a family and a  health commitment and you take on an important professional commitment with an impossible deadline all in a week. This reminds me of Josh Billings when he said ‘half of the troubles of this life can be traced to saying yes too quickly and not saying no soon enough’. It is advisable, to be honest with those around you and say no to their request due to other commitments. Do not be afraid to say that your child is sick or you have other engagements elsewhere or you had already booked a holiday as a reason why you cannot take in an extra request. As challenging as it will be, most people admire and respect people who honor their truth.

5. Negotiate

Saying no to a request and instead trading it off with less of what was requested works well especially where clients are involved. Its the biggest indicator that you have mastered both the art of saying no and that of keeping the client happy.  For Instance, let’s look at a client who wants you to participate in marketing their product on your website which is not possible at the moment due to various factors. You can trade off the request by offering to promote the product on social media. This shows your value for the client but not bending over backward for what is not possible at the moment.

6. In-person communication channel

The channel in which you communicate the no answer matters a lot and perceived differently depending on the channel used. A personal element such as a phone call or in-person while communicating a no response is in most cases appreciated by the recipient as it leaves no room for confusion or assumption. Modes such as email and texts are often subject to misinterpretation and often come across in an impersonal way. 

7. Be timely with the response

As challenging as the response is, do not sit on the answer longer than is necessary. If certain that you will be saying no to that task, communicate it on time. This will ensure you are not put in a bad light and it also gives the recipient enough time to look for alternatives or evaluate the alternative options given.

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