Overwhelmed at Work? How and When to Say “No”


Saying no to people you work with isn’t always easy, especially if you’re the kind of person who’s inclined to say yes too much. Of course, if you’re feeling overwhelmed at work, then it may be that your inclination to say yes is what’s gotten you into this situation. Knowing when and how to say no to someone you work with can help you remain productive and do the job you were hired to do. Here’s what we suggest.

Assess Your Situation

First, determine whether you need to say “no or not. Ask questions of the person who is asking you to take on a new task. Find out information about the task, then decide whether this fits in your current workload. Find out information such as:

  • How much time will you need to devote to this task?
  • Will you be spearheading the effort, or working as a part of a team?
  • Have you done this type of work before?
  • Can you get help if you need it?
  • Is the deadline firm?

Find out the answers to these questions can help you make an informed decision. Also, if you do decide that you have to say no to the task, the person who asked you to do it will feel better knowing that you considered the matter thoroughly before declining.

How to Say “No” to Your Boss

You’ve decided that you need to decline a request, but the request is coming from your boss. How should you proceed?

  • Tell them why. Remind your boss about the many things on your plate at this time.
  • Provide alternatives. Show your boss that you’re not leaving them up a creek without help; provide suggestions that could help your boss get this task done.
  • Be straightforward. Don’t beat around the bush, or you could end up doing this task anyway.
  • Thank them. Encourage your boss to come to you with future requests by showing your appreciation. You want to be thought of when the work is being doled out.

How to Say “No” to a Coworker

Saying no to a coworker can be easier, but should still be handled tactfully.

  • Be firm but polite. Don’t leave your coworker with the impression that you might be open to doing the work if you’re really not.
  • Offer suggestions. Do you know the right person to do the job? Offer this suggestion to your coworker.
  • Let them know you’re open in the future. Every new task you do at work is a new opportunity to learn something. Encourage coworkers to come to you when there’s a new task to take on.

About the Author: Kathryn Elwell grew up in the Midwest. She has experience in management and human resources, and has been writing on these topics and more for 12 years.

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