How to Say No to Your Boss

People-pleasing can be a trap almost anyone can fall into. This is especially true during times of stress or economic uncertainty when there is an extra element of fear or insecurity in the workplace. We begin to think about others’ feelings, needs, and priorities before our own. We strive to go that extra mile, and sometimes, that means over-committing.

You may want to consider declining that new project if:

  • Someone else can do it better, faster, or more efficiently
  • You literally have no wiggle room in your schedule
  • Your team is working on another deadline
  • Other tasks or assignments are a priority

It’s Not What You Say, It’s How You Say It

Avoid actually using the word no. Starting your sentence with a negative reaction tends to put people on the defensive. While you may have a great reason for turning down an assignment, re-routing an idea, or postponing a project, the phrasing of your rejection can determine whether it is scoffed at or accepted at face value. Instead, listen with an open mind, express your desire to help, move into a conversation of the logistical barriers, and conclude with proactive problem-solving.

Quick tips:

  • Begin with what can be done instead of what cannot.
  • Be cognizant of your body language – strive to remain neutral until you speak.
  • Avoid strong negative language such as “that’s not possible” or “we can’t do that” or “I don’t know how.”
  • Be reasonable and logical; leave your emotions out of it.
  • Make your case for why your alternative suggestion is actually better.

Caveats: When Not to Say No

One time it’s almost never OK to say no is when you are the new guy (or girl) in the office. Similarly, if you are working for a new boss, you want to build that relationship and prove your worth before you risk appearing disagreeable or argumentative.

Eva Rykrsmith

Eva Rykrsmith is an organizational psychology practitioner. Her passion lies in bringing a psychology perspective to the business world, with the mission of creating a high-performance environment. Follow her @EvaRykr.

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