How to Say No So You Can Be More Productive at Work

If you’ve ever spent any significant time around a 2 year old, you know that one of the first words we master in the human language is “No!”.  But somewhere between our terrible twos and the terrific thirties (and forties, and fifties), some of us forget how and when to use that simple two letter response.

So before you go spouting any more “Yes’s” take a look at our Quick and Dirty 4 Question Test when deciding whether to say “yes” or “no” to the next workplace request.

The Work Well Group Quick and Dirty 4 Question Yes or No Test

1.  Do I have the time and the capacity?
2.  Do I have the desire?
3.  Is the payoff worth my time?
4.  What is the “yes” to “stress” ratio?

Of course, there are some things where “Yes” is the only alternative, but for many workplace requests, we hold the power of a “yes” or “no”. Most of us live on automatic "yes," and our inability to say no stops us from being as productive and effective as we could be.

Because many of us don't like to hurt someone's feeling or make them feel bad, we end up saying "yes" when we don't really have extra time or resources to adequately complete the request.  

Learning respectful, straightforward language and practicing it is one of the best ways to get comfortable with saying "no." 

Here are a few ways to say no that you can practice and try out: 

“I’m sorry.  I can’t right now.” (straight forward)
“This doesn’t fit into my schedule, but I’d be happy to help you find someone else.” (helpful)
“I can’t do ___________, but I can ____________.” (keeps your time managed)
“Thanks, but I’ll have to pass.” (simple, no explanation needed)
“I like the idea, but I can’t put one more thing on my plate.” (honest)
“That sounds fun, but if I say ‘yes’ my family will string me by the toes.” (humor)
“No, but thanks for asking.” (using ‘No’ in front of this or any of the above adds emphasis)

Once you see that the earth doesn’t quake when you say no, it will get easier to put boundaries on your time so that you can choose your activities instead of them choosing you.  And finally, remember these simple tips as you learn to LOVE “no”.

  • Use the word “no” before your response for emphasis and clarity.

  • Be brief. State your reason, but don’t go on and on.

  • Be honest. Nothing will ruin your brand faster than getting caught in a lie.

  • Be respectful. Many requests you get will be valid, so politeness goes a long way.

  • Be ready to repeat. Calmly repeat your “no”. Long explanations aren’t mandatory.

Remember that when you say “Yes” to everything, you say “No” to something really important … YOU!