9 Strategies for Successfully Saying No at Work

Saying no can be pretty tough at work.

It’s in our nature to say yes because we want to be well-liked and respected as dedicated, hardworking young professionals.

And we’re not always given the benefit of the doubt.

To be considered a contributing member of your team, you’re often expected to go above and beyond. But this shouldn’t come at the cost of your health or detriment to your personal relationships and responsibilities.


People who say yes to every single project, task, invitation, and meeting often end up burning out. On top of that, saying yes to everything can actually have the opposite intended effect.

While you should be productive and take on as many projects as you can handle, once in a while you just have to say no.

Here’s how:

Say No Selectively
When you have too much on your plate it can negatively affect whether you see a project through to the best of your ability. You’ll have to rush to meet the deadline and your work will likely suffer.

Be purposeful with your goals and analyze whether something is going to help you achieve them. If it isn’t, then this is the first thing to cut when your schedule is full.

Spread the Love
It’s also a good idea to make sure you aren’t consistently saying no to one individual at work. Try to spread your yeses and nos around.

Be especially sure that you are only declining your boss on rare, warranted occasions and that you discuss it with them first before giving a hard no.

Take Your Time
Unless the request is time sensitive, there’s nothing wrong with saying you’ll think about it. Give yourself 24 hours to analyze your schedule and make sure you don’t have any conflicts. Not to mention that you’ll have the time (and energy) to give it your all.

Decline in Person
Emails and text can easily be misconstrued since it can sometimes be difficult to gage tone of voice in writing. To avoid any hurt feelings, it’s best to say no in person or on the phone.

If you feel you need a written record of you declining the request, you can always send a quick follow up email.

Never Be “Too Busy”
Sometimes it’s not what you say; it’s how you say it. Never ever tell someone you’re simply “too busy” to accept their request – even if it’s true.

Everyone is busy. You don’t want to damage your reputation as a dedicated team player by making it seem like your own work is more important than anything else.

If you truly are too busy, use language like “scheduling conflict” or “prior commitments.”

Avoid the Details
It’s common courtesy to offer up some sort of explanation when refusing a request. That being said, keep your reasons short and sweet.

If you lay out your entire calendar for them, you’re giving them the opportunity to question priorities or importance of other tasks. Even if you aren’t looking for their input, they may offer a work-around to squeeze their request into your schedule.

Offer an Alternative
Say what you can do rather than what you can’t do.

It’s always better to offer an alternative solution or person who may be able to take your place (hopefully after checking with them first). Try to contribute something even if you can’t take on the whole project.

Prioritize With Your Boss
Sometimes it can be helpful to ask your boss for guidance. Make it clear that you don’t want to say no to the request, but that you have a conflict and are trying to resolve it.

They may be able to offer advice for prioritizing projects, push a deadline they’ve given you, offer alternatives, or even back you up in declining an invitation.

This is not something you should do often though, as you don’t want to seem dependent or indecisive.

Don’t Call Me Maybe
Be firm in your response if you want to say no. Don’t offer maybes or half-answers as a way to let them down easy. It will only leave room for false expectations and bigger disappointments.

Now, if you really are on the fence, make certain to give them a response deadline so that you don’t leave anyone hanging. If you can’t accept right now, but would like to have the invitation in the future, be sure to make that clear.