Tuesday, June 18, 2024

How and when to say ‘no’ in a workplace environment

One of the biggest delays in production and productivity is distraction.

In this particular case, we’re addressing distraction in the form of accepting work or tasks from others. I help my team with this and often deal with it by helping them to say ‘no’, but concomitantly think about how saying yes can benefit them. 

Many people will think no is the answer, but in some cases it could be better to gain some clout and recognition in the work place by helping out.

Is ‘yes’ an option?

Before you think about saying no, think about if by saying yes how you can benefit from it. Too often we’re encouraged to say no, but there is more to be gained by saying yes. It opens the doors to recognition from peers, other department heads, respect in a certain subject matter and creating an ally in the workplace whilst gaining a favour.

At an initial glance it seems there’s more to gain by saying yes, but there’s a few factors to consider before taking on additional tasks.

A full comprehension of the task is a must. 

You’ll need scope of the work involved. This requires understanding the total labour, finding out who else will be working on this, how long it will take and the expected outcomes. 

When you can see alignment in your responsibilities then consider if this will be distracting from business unit goals. 

But In the case where the answer is no, here is how I guide my team to respond to requests for help.

Be transparent

We’ve got deadlines and priorities that need to be met, manager’s expectations are high. This is typical of a busy worker and can’t afford any further workload otherwise they will risk missing project deadlines, operations targets and ultimately fall behind on their own obligations.

Being honest and transparent is a way to say you’re busy without saying no. Let them know what you have on and imply urgency by mentioning dates. It indicates that you don’t have immediate time and already occupied with an important task.

“I’ve got the XYZ project to complete by next week and the board is waiting for the report on this. Then I’ve also got to submit the performance report in the following week…” 

Alternatively, if you are willing to help out but just not right now, you could give an
estimate of when you are able to help out.

“I’ve got the XYZ project to complete by next week and the board is waiting for the report on this, I could get around to helping you next month.” 

Say 'yes' if . . .

The total labour involved is manageable within your workload.

Say 'no' if . . .

Your deadlines are too close and you'll need to sacrifice personal business objectives.

Whichever way you let them know, it’s the transparency that gives objective reason to refuse or delay the helping them out. Not giving a reason will imply you’re simply not interested in helping, and this can do the opposite of creating an ally.

Be frank and honest.

Use authority

The pressure from another coworker is hard to resist, especially one of a senior position.
Saying ‘no’ to a senior manager can be difficult and find yourself convinced that you have to help. 
When you feel pressured into helping out you should feel comfortable to go to your manager/supervisor for guidance. 
A discussion with your manager will help you on where you stand with the request. Be honest and communicate your reasons. A good leader will be able to give you confidence in what to say, or say no for you. My former manager would say to me, I’m here to be the “bad guy” that says ‘no’.
This is a display of emotional intelligence, which is a key quality in leadership and plays a strong role in the concept of saying ‘no’ in the workplace. As a person in a situation who is being asked for help, your emotional intelligence also plays a key role because it dictates the method in which you’ll say no.
The honest truth is always the best response to refusal or acceptance. You shouldn’t be swayed by their persuasion or pressure and you should be in control of the workload, with your manager guiding you on priorities.
It’s also important to not display hesitancy, or you risk giving the impression of trying to find a way out. As long as you’re being honest, it will be easy to embody a confident reply and using polite language will send across the message without compromising your workplace relationships.


Always make consideration into your leadership and workplace clout. Helping out a coworker can make an ally in the office and a favour in return in the future. 
Your positive and respectful reputation for helping out will be a valuable asset when it comes to important things in your career in your current workplace, with acceptance into social groups and salary reviews taken into consideration.
Ultimately, you’ll have an instinct of whether or not taking additional work is within your capacity and as long as you imply the approach above, all will be fine.
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Noj Christensen

Noj Christensen

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