How to say “no” at work

woman sleeping at desk in her office

Times are tough

The economy sucks.  Be thankful you have a job.

(How many times have you heard that statement?)

We are all doing more with fewer resources.  Businesses and organizations have let people go or not replaced retirees and expect the same quality of work to come out of their remaining employees.

You probably say “yes” to more work because you want to be valued as an employee, show you care about the company or the team, or you want to get ahead in your career.

When should you say “no” and how can you say it?

I recently asked a colleague to sit on a committee for a project.  I knew it was beyond the scope of her direct role in my department but I felt her contributions would be valuable.

Her response? “While I am interested in this project and would be happy to advise you when you have questions, if I don’t get Job #1 done I won’t be kept around to do Jobs #2, #3, or #4.”

The answer was gracious but she still made her point clear.  She said no professionally.  I appreciated her honesty.

When your primary responsibilities will suffer if you take on the project, you should say no.

Offer an alternative solution

Recently I was asked to make a presentation to a group of students at the campus where I work.  The presentation preparation would have been considerable and fell during an already busy week.  In any other circumstances I would have happily agreed, even though extra work would be involved, but in this case I had to say no.

Before responding to the invite I reached out to another colleague who I knew was quite capable of speaking on the requested topic to see if he was interested and if he had the time.  Instead of just declining the invitation I was able to offer the requester an alternative solution.  It was a win-win for everyone: I was off the hook, my co-worker was given a great opportunity, and the requester found their presenter without any extra searching.


Saying no because you are lazy or you don’t want to cut into your Facebook time is never okay.  Saying no because you understand your job priorities and have honestly assessed that you do not have the time or resources to effectively complete a new project is respectful.

When you choose to say “no” be gracious, explain why, and try to offer a different solution.

When have you said “NO!” at work?  How did it go?


About Mallory Wood

Mallory Wood is a Vermont-based higher ed marketing professional with a passion for social media, web video, and event production. View all posts by Mallory Wood

2 responses to “How to say “no” at work

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