If you’re like me, you want to say ‘yes’ to everything. You may crave new opportunities to learn and grow your career, or you may be a bit cautious of saying ‘no’ in case it reflects badly on you and you’re never offered the opportunity again.
However, you can’t always say ‘yes’. Taking on too much at work (or in your personal life) leads to burn out. There is no point agreeing to complete more projects than you can handle, and then turning in sub-standard work. You can only say ‘yes’ after having considered the request, the time it will take to do a high quality job, and whether this is practical with your current workload.
So how can you politely say ‘no’ without burning any bridges? For people who are more senior, this may not be as difficult. But for new graduates such as myself, it presents a bit of a challenge.
One tactic I have found helpful is to approach it from a positive, not from a negative. Rather than saying “No sorry, I can’t do that”, say “I would really like to do that, but..” Make it clear that you appreciate being thought of for the work, and that you are keen to be involved.
You also need to be direct, while still being professional and polite. Don’t list a bunch of excuses and get into unimportant details. Simply explain your current priorities – perhaps the person requesting your time can help you resolve some conflicts. So, for example, you could say to your supervisor “I would really like to help you with that, however I was planning on getting Project X done for next Tuesday…” They may then say Project X is less important and not to worry about it for now.
It is always a good idea to then offer an alternative. Maybe you can’t take on the whole project, but you can work on a particular section of it. Maybe you would like to take it on board, but you think it would be good to have someone else help out. Perhaps you could offer to teach someone the skills they need, so they can complete the project and come to you for guidance while you work on other things. Offering an alternative shows you are willing to do your best and compromise, rather than just giving a flat ‘no’.
A great article for more information on this topic is from Rebecca Knight at the Harvard Business Review.
Maybe you don’t just need to say ‘no’ to your boss, but to a client or a co-worker? This short article by Sara McCord gives some great tips of different ways to politely say ‘no’ in the workplace.
– Michelle De Aizpurua, ILN Content Officer.