How to Say 'No' at Work

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You’re overwhelmed at work juggling 4 different assignments with tight timelines, and yet you can’t find the voice to say “no” when your manager asks if you can take on one more task. 😵

Sound familiar? Whether you’re an intern, new hire, or a seasoned professional - it can be difficult to vouch for your time and well-being at work. Here’s a secret: Saying no at work doesn't always require the words “no.” 

Three tips for the next time you’re in this situation: 

Realize your power.
You’re getting approached for work because you’re showing output. That is a #win. (If you’re twiddling your thumbs all day, it may be a sign that you’re not holding your weight.) So first, recognize that you are offering value to the team and you should take ownership of that achievement. Don’t be afraid that your reputation will be tainted if you push back on a project. 

Define your Priorities
You should always prioritize projects (based on factors like the timeline and business impact), but often times, it’s also your manager’s job to prioritize tasks for you. Next time, try to say: “Hey, I have these 4 projects on my plate this week. I think “Project A” is the priority and it’s going to take me at least two days to complete it. There’s a good chance that “Project B” may not be done this week. Does this feel right in terms of priorities?”

 Don’t always commit right away.
When you already have too much on your plate, but a team member says “You can do this by Friday, right?” Take a beat. Breathe! Instead of saying yes on autopilot, try responding with “Can I get back to you on that? I have a few things on my list, and I want to give you a realistic timeline.” Or if it’s in a group meeting, try “Hey, that sounds exciting. Can we talk separately about next steps after this meeting?” And always, always follow up and explain your workload priorities. 

Contrary to what we’ve been taught, saying “no” is actually a statement about valuing your time and your impact to the team. When you are constantly working against tight deadlines and juggling multiple projects at once, you are not producing your best work. Give yourself space and time to put your best foot forward–your manager will appreciate you for that. 💫


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On the JobCarol Chan