Saying 'NO' at the workplace

Culture Nov 04, 2020

Working in any organisation and especially ones wherein you are part of a smaller team helps you take on multiple hats. For instance initially the task can be just handling social media accounts that slowly extend to client coordination, team assessment and even project management making your Task-For-Today full.

And that's alright. It's good learning and for the win.

However, what happens when things spiral out of control and you are left with not the bare semblance of normalcy in your life at work and in your personal space. You burn, get jaded and hate coming back on a Monday.

Declining additional work or turning down a colleague who needs assistance can be tough. It may feel like turning down an opportunity that helps build the team spirit and you a complete team player. However, if agreed that work is an actual overload on your normally stretched self, done half-heartedly within stringent time-lines that would anyways be no good.


Which is why, learning to say 'NO' at your workplace is as much a skill as your domain skills. Saying 'NO' can actually help you concentrate on your tasks for the day, complete them without any loss of quality. This helps build your career, strengthen assessment and add value to the overall ethos of the organisation.

So when do you say 'No'?

1) Too much on your plate

If you have a hectic schedule for the day and can't fit in another task, choose to say no.

2) The work is exhausting and overwhelming

Giving priority to your assigned work is not a mistake. Choose to say NO if the extra work can take away all the strength and mood to work needed to complete your own chores.

3) See no growth from it

Often assistance is needed in projects which are not of any additional value to your experience or of your related skill areas. In such cases, your doing it might actually be harming the overall and personal growth in the longer run. Take this as an opportunity to say NO as well.

How do we say NO politely?

Saying No can be difficult as it can in a shorter term seem to break the rapport among colleagues or your clients.
Listed below are some ways of how you can politely say 'No'

1) Ask for the potential for your growth in the project

Being honest and asking them how it would help your growth is important. If the growth is not closely associated with your portfolio, communicate your disinterest. Communicate what you look for, this can help your colleague assign/ask for assistance on specific tasks.

2) Refer them

If you are not in the position to help try to refer them to another colleague who could be of help. With this approach, you help the work get done without harming the relation and rapport with the colleague.

3) Offer resources that can be beneficial

If the help needed can be done without any manual assistance, then choose some resources that can be beneficial. Websites, PDFs, YouTube videos and more can do the work. This deed is also appreciable.

4) If your schedule permits

If the work assigned is of your interest and you can do it, then communicate the same. Tell the colleague about your schedule and the interest in the work and let them know the time frame that works the best. If the requestor is unwilling to adjust to the time frame or stretch the work for a while, choose to say NO.

What's next?

  1. Stay grateful

If any client or colleague has approached you for a specific work, make sure you show gratefulness and thank them for it. This keeps the overall work spirit intact and positive.

2.  Make sure you respond

In case you aren't picking up the job, make sure you communicate it to them. Leaving them hanging for a response will spoil their schedule and also spoil your rapport with them.

3.  Practice professionalism

While you say no or refuse the offer, make sure the tone isn't rude. Keep it simple, polite and professional.

Turning down work isn't easy. It is difficult and awkward more so when colleagues work in the same office/ team. However, in the long run the habit and skill set of saying No in specific circumstances actually is for the greater good and together win.
Besides, a no here is a yes to something more.

As Bill Crawford says, “One key to successful relationships is learning to say no without guilt so that you can say yes without resentment.”



Divya K.S

“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” — Louis L’Amour