The Art of Saying 'No' in the Workplace

14/08/2012 17:33 BST | Updated 13/10/2012 10:12 BST

It's one of the hardest words to say in the workplace - especially when you're out to impress, and the idea of having to tell colleagues you can't do something may feel like raising a red flag of ineptitude.

How many times have you found yourself swamped by work, yet saying 'yes' to extra responsibilities and tasks? Either through fear of appearing rude or selfish, or because we strive to earn our place by doing what's asked, when it's asked - even to the detriment of our quality of work and ourselves.

In my experience, there is so much anxiety around the implications of using this monosyllabic monster that it is easy to forget that sometimes it's okay to say 'no'.

This fact has taken me a long time to learn, and remains one which I am still getting my head around as I sit here typing. I am your classic 'people pleaser' type, who will take on extra responsibilities and work until I'm getting three hours sleep a night in order to keep on top of everything. At one point during my fulltime degree, I was working 3 jobs, doing volunteer work and acting as news and comment editor for the university newspaper. Looking back, I'm not quite sure how I survived.

Of course, there are certain ways of saying no. Rolling your eyes, 'talk to the hand' and incomprehensible screaming generally tend to leave the inquirer in bad spirits.

When it feels like time to use the magic word, keep these tips in mind:

  • Prioritise: Be sure to know where you stand with your current responsibilities. Keep deadlines in sight and be aware of time-sensitive tasks. Keep a physical list if necessary. As well as this, don't lose sight of how important personal time is - it's okay to take work home sometimes, but try not to make a habit of it.
  • Don't Lie: Be honest with your coworkers. Everyone has experienced 'to do list' overload at one time or another in their career, and so the explanation is best in its simplest form.
  • Be Polite: Don't be defensive, nor aggressive. A respectful rejection will ensure that no feelings are hurt and that you don't rub anyone up the wrong way.
  • Reschedule: If it is something that can be done later in the week, offer to help them out then if they still need assistance, and once you have a more manageable workload.
  • Delegate: Offer to ask around to see if someone else is available instead. Remember to be respectful when asking others for assistance.

Finally, don't be scared to hold your ground; if asked again, simply reiterate that you're currently unable to take anything else on board until you've gotten through some of your tasks.

'No' is a little word with big impact. Use it wisely.