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How can you say 'no' to your boss in a polite but effective way?

There's no magic formula when it comes to saying "no" at work, but here are some pointers

Published: May 24, 2022 05:46:59 PM IST

How can you say 'no' to your boss in a polite but effective way?Saying "no" can be essential for maintaining a healthy balance at work. Image: Shutterstock

Saying "no" to colleagues or superiors is not always easy. And yet, it is sometimes essential. With concrete arguments and polite answers, it's possible to say "no" nicely in a calm and confident way. Here are a few things to consider.

It's not easy to say "no" to your supervisor, is it? Especially when they ask to do a task at the last minute, just before going home—or worse—before leaving for the weekend.

But there's no need to overload yourself, as this could increase your stress level at work. And ultimately, you won't gain much from the experience except extra hours in the office. Saying "no" can be essential for maintaining a healthy balance at work. And saying it politely and diplomatically will make you an excellent coworker.

There is no right way to say "no" at work—no magic formula that works every time. But there are some things that can be helpful to bear in mind.

Prioritise your priorities!

The first thing to do before accepting or turning down a new assignment is to make sure that your priorities are covered. Think about your daily tasks, and whether this request might affect your ability to take care of urgent matters or whether it could fit into your schedule. If not, you can reply by saying that you have a lot to do today, backing it up with facts. For example, you could say something like: "I'd like to be able to help you out with this, but I'm afraid I won't be able to because I have a lot of things I need to get done today."

If it's a late request, or one that falls outside of your office hours, the first thing to bear in mind is that, depending on the terms of your employment, you might not be obliged to respond. In some countries, workers even have the legal "right to disconnect."

Then, the other question to ask yourself is: "Can what my boss is asking me to do wait until tomorrow?" If so, answer that you take note of the request and will get to work on it the next day.

Suggest an alternative

Offering an alternative is not really saying no, it's true, but it is a way to prove that you are committed and keen to help. And that appeals to superiors.

You could offer to carry out the requested task in exchange for help on one of your other tasks; or offer an additional time frame, because you are already busy. You could even suggest freeing up time to take on this new task by handing over one of your others to someone else.

Be careful: it's not about being a strategist here or playing games, but at work, as in life, sometimes it's important to speak up.

Saying "no" can be beneficial

For all the reasons mentioned above, saying "yes" to your boss or colleagues all the time is not necessarily a way to make yourself look good. On the contrary. You will prove your value and ability much more by showing that you know how to prioritize your work, and that you can find alternatives to get the job done. Saying "no" can actually be a way to prove your professionalism.

If you still have trouble saying "no" politely, the job search engine Indeed has listed "How To Nicely Say "No" (With 50 Examples)" that you might find helpful.