The Art of not saying NO!


People don’t like to hear the no word. Especially your boss. He is asking you do something and even if you want or need to say no, its not what he wants to hear. So if you want to get ahead you need to frame it better so that you are both  happy. So my tips for today on how to say no.. or not.

Deflect –  If its a colleague asking try and direct them to someone else .. “I can’t help you right now with my workload but I believe Joe would be able to help./ Joe was working on this../ I think Joe knows more about this than me..”

Delay – Replace “no” with “not now”. Say you “can’t handle it right now but will get back to them with it on” a set date. Then you can work on it when less busy, or they may go elsewhere to get the work done. Another situation is where you are in a meeting and someone dumps work on you. You don’t want to get into an argument or say no at that time so just nod and you will “look into it /do more investigation/  get back to them on it”. Then followup later with that person in a 1:1 where saying no is easier.

Ignore – if the request comes by email (and not from your boss)…. Close the email and mark it unread. And wait. If its important they will call you and you can make an excuse why you didn’t work on it. This will give you valuable time to get other stuff done i.e. “I saw the email but haven’t got to it yet .. I must have missed it”/ “I don’t remember seeing it.. can you send again” etc. This shows how busy you are as well!

Give them work   – Another way of avoiding saying no is to give work to the person asking, so the request goes away – possibly temporarily – maybe permanently.

  • So if they ask  you to do “x” you can respond with “I think we need to take a step back and look at the strategy here, can you set up a meeting with all these people so we can review”. Do a few strategy meetings and people may decide you don’t need to be involved after all, or that the project was a bad idea etc.
  • Or give them some prep work – try “I can help you but can you do X Y and Z and then we will meet later to review before I get started”?”. By asking them to do some initial work they may balk at doing anything at all and so the request will go away.
  • In my office, my IT and creative department have “submission forms” that  they ask people to fill up before doing work. These are long and complex and then involve a meeting afterward to discuss. They take time and work on the part of the submitter…. which best case means they may not bother submitting the form at all… or will give you a delay while they complete the form.

Say yes but mean no – One of my colleagues always says yes to whatever you ask. But she then doesn’t do anything unless the request comes from a senior level employee or is high exposure. If you ask her where the work is, she has numerous excuses about workload etc. This is worth a try but be careful as the requester could escalate to your boss so be prepared to respond to questions if this happens.


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