How and When to Say “No” at Work

Can you take care of this for me? Will you do me a favor during your break? I know you’re busy, but I really think you would be the best leader for this upcoming project, so will you manage it?

Have you ever been in this situation? Sometimes it can feel like people are pulling you from a million different directions with a million different requests. And if you want to keep your sanity, you’ll need to say “no” to some of those requests.

But saying “no” can be tricky. Oftentimes guilt will trick us into saying “yes” instead, creating a to-do list that may be too much for us to handle. Even when your list is overflowing with tasks, you may still find it hard to turn down an invitation or assignment.

However, when you learn to say “no,” you allow yourself to put your full effort into your work. If you have too many things on your plate, you tend to put in only enough effort to complete the task at hand so that you can move onto the next one and meet deadlines. Turning down tasks when you already have too many helps you improve the quality of work that you put out.

Moreover, you learn to prioritize items and set your limits and boundaries. After you stop saying “yes” to every request thrown your way, you can finally see just how much work you can handle at any given time. Not to mention, if you’re doing work or going to events that are taking up a lot of time and setting you back in your development, it’s probably best to realize that when you set your boundaries, it will happen less often. Don’t be part of committees or organizations that you don’t enjoy, especially if they don’t offer any personal development. When you limit your commitments, you allow yourself to enjoy more what you do and to fulfill those commitments to the best of your ability. And setting those limits enables you to take care of your physical and mental health, both of which should be top priorities.

Next time you’re faced with a situation where you have to decide whether to say “yes” or “no,” here are three tips to help you out.

Step Back from the Situation

Take time to yourself to think through it. If you decide on the spot, chances are that their puppy dog eyes will persuade you to say yes, even if you would rather say no. Consider honestly whether you have too much going on at the moment and whether you have time to accept the invitation or offer your best help.

Give a Definitive Answer

After you have thought about it, make sure that you give a solid answer, whether it’s a yes or a no. “Maybe’s” make things more complicated and are largely unfair to the person asking. They give undue hope and make it harder for you to say “no” later on. Don’t give an answer until you have made a final decision to avoid more complications.

Avoid Excuses

If ultimately you have to say no, do it with respect, gratitude, and grace. If it’s an invitation, thank them for their consideration of you, but don’t let that be the reason that you say yes. If you have too much going on, let them know that you cannot attend because you’ve got too much on your plate. It’s that simple. You don’t have to go into specifics or make up extravagant lies.

And if they are asking you for your help, explain to them that you wish you could, but it would spread you too thin at this time. After all, when giving help, you want to be able to give your best effort. If you genuinely want to help out, tell them that you will let them know if anything changes.


This isn’t to say that you should stop helping others. Of course lending a hand is not a bad thing, but you should be careful about letting it consume you or affect you negatively. Saying “yes” too many things adds stress and takes away your free time, so choose carefully when you’re faced with a decision.