Employer Branding

How to Say No at Work

Perhaps the most important skill to learn at work is prioritization. By taking on some projects and declining others, it is possible to control your work quality more effectively, something that is absolutely crucial.

But learning when and how to say no is something particularly difficult in an American professional climate where people tend to be boastful about overwork to an unhealthy degree.

According to the study outlined below, over 50% of people feel they are overburdened at work, and the sad fact is, overwork does not mean more productive work. Piling on projects tends to lead to issues like poor job performance, lack of work life balance, and even protracted illness.

So how do you make sure that the work you are performing is maximizing your skills and efforts without tipping the balance into overwork?

The infographic below outlines strategies you can use to tactfully inform a superior or peer that you are not able to perform a task. With these tips in mind, you can turn a no answer to your advantage.

Why do you say no?

The primary reason you should say no to a project is when you feel that your taking it on will be to the detriment of the finished product (or will reduce the quality of something else on which you are currently working). There are several reasons that could be the case and you must ask yourself these rather pointed professional questions every time you are assigned a task.

When offered a project ask yourself the following:

  • Am I the right person for the job? It’s tempting to take a job, imagining that you could probably get it done – but if you know someone with a better skill set to accomplish the task it is always better to mention it.
  • Will this affect my ability to do my other work? Any new project will take valuable time away from something you are already working on, but is that something you can afford to do? If you are performing multiple tasks for the same person, be forthright and ask about prioritization. They may not realize everything that is on your plate. Inform the person, politely, of the several tasks you are currently working on and give them a chance to consult with you on which is the most important and which might be able to wait.
  • Is this to the detriment of the company? If you are faced with a job that you feel is not beneficial or in fact hindering the company’s performance in some way, it is best to make that feeling known rather than barreling ahead with something that is not well thought out. Make sure that you fully understand the assignment and ask to meet and talk through any troublesome spots. You may discover that you misunderstood the project, or you might save everyone time and effort.

How do you say no?

The short answer is to always be honest about your work situation.

Covering up the fact that you are too overworked to take on something new will lead to disaster. It’s just as important (if not more so) to be forthright with your no. Equivocation can lead to a miscommunication.

When you say no, do so decisively – it may be difficult at first, but with practice and self-discipline you’ll become better at saying no without feeling guilty.

GetVoIP has put together a graphic that offers specific language and strategies to turn to when you must decline a project, including:

  • Offering an alternative: Come in with a plan that gives them options if you are unable to perform a task.
  • Being open to a future project: Let them know that you would be happy to take on a project at a later date, but that circumstances don’t allow for it right now.
  • Not making excuses: If the reasons why you can’t perform a task are complex, it is unnecessary to explain them all – be calm and direct.
  • Being empathetic: Try to be kind (rather than exasperated) about any rejection. If someone is asking you to do a task it is because they trust and respect you enough to think you will do the best job on it. Give them the respect they deserve back and soften your rejection with understanding.

Read the infographic below to see which of these you have followed correctly and which you think you’ll be able to employ when you are next asked to perform a task that is not doable for you.

About the author: Reuben Yonatan is the founder and CEO of GetVoIP. As an entrepreneur and tech enthusiast, Reuben brings a wealth of hands-on telecom industry experience, backed by a 10-year track record in strategically shaping operational functionality in all his ventures.

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