When work is overwhelming you and bringing you at your wit’s end, you may feel the pressure to say “no” to that next project because it is just too much to bear at the time. While it is innate to resist the temptation to refuse more responsibility, it can actually be beneficial to your career if done right.
Saying “no” can help you stick to the morals and values you have, while also allowing the right person for the job to take over. There’s no shame in saying “no” to that next assignment that will push you over the edge and that you just don’t have the time to dedicate to getting it done.
To allow you to feel more comfortable refusing work without fearing the consequences, 14 members of Forbes Coaches Council share some of the instances in which it is appropriate for professionals to say “no” in the workplace.
1. When Your Integrity Is On The Line
Saying "no" means that there is a breach of your personal and professional integrity. Integrity is about trust. Maintaining trust is about being honest and respectful to yourself and others. When your integrity is on the line, saying "no" is a wonderful way to keep trust. - Alan Trivedi, Trivedi Coaching & Consulting Group
2. If You're Not The Right Person For The Job
If a professional knows a request asks that he or she do something outside his or her skill set, then it's appropriate (and necessary) to say "no." This is when a polite, "I am not certain I am best for the job, but have you considered Person X?" would be an appropriate answer. - Sharon Hull, Metta Solutions, LLC
3. If It Goes Against Your ValuesShort of doing something illegal, one instance in which it is appropriate for professionals to say "no" is when something they have been asked to do goes against their values. When moral principles are challenged, say "no" and be OK with the consequence. If your boss does not respect your values, they do not value you. If you don't say "no" to something that feels unethical, then you do not value yourself. - Susan Taylor, Generon International
4. To Better Manage Your WorkloadIt may seem ironic, but saying "no" strategically and respectfully is crucial to your standing in the workplace and your career. When you get a request that will prevent you from accomplishing a key career goal or your core responsibilities, it is important to say "no." Start by discussing your key tasks with your manager and calculate how much time it will take to get them done. Then you will know whether you can say "yes" or "no." - Loren Margolis, Training & Leadership Success LLC
5. When You Have A Better "Yes"
Say “no” to a “yes.” Say "no" so you can say "yes." When a leader says “yes” to something new in their life or their leadership, they must decide that they will say “no” to something that they are already involved in doing. This principle will ensure that you are not just needlessly adding to your "yes" list, but rather are replacing your already “yes’s” with new “no's.” - Ken Gosnell, CEO Experience
6. To Set Boundaries
We actually condition others how to treat us at work. Don't set yourself up to be the "path of least resistance," the person who never says "no," even when already overloaded. That just increases the probability that the person asking will come back to you the next time. Practice saying "no" and then be prepared with an alternative approach or an alternative time frame. And be sure to say it with a smile! - Kathy Bernhard, KFB Leadership Solutions
7. When It Negatively Impacts Performance
"No" is something we are so often afraid of saying, and it's a word we need to use more. Instead of focusing on the best way to meet the desired outcome, we fear saying "no" and end up taking on projects or tasks that are often counterproductive, slow us down or hold back the performance of the company. It's your responsibility to say "no." If not for your sanity, do it for the sake of your company. - Aaron Levy, Raise The Bar Consulting
8. When Too Much Is Really Too Much
Say "no" when it's really not feasible for you to take on one more thing. Too many professionals will never say no and get to the point where nothing is getting done well. This damages your reputation and the success of the project, team or even the company. Discuss your reasoning with your manager and then there is the potential to reprioritize. - Edith Onderick-Harvey, NextBridge Consulting, LLC
9. When Fighting Abusive Language Or Behavior
It is never OK to be abusive, and if you do not say "no" and set a limit right away, then you may inadvertently send a message that you are OK with this kind of treatment. Additionally, you will be modeling to others what is OK or not OK in your work environment. All of this is especially true if you are a leader of others. Leaders create culture through their behavior, so it is incumbent on them to set expectations and limits - Eugene Dilan, Psy.D., DILAN Consulting Group
10. When The Request Doesn't Match Your Goals
There will always be scenarios in the business arena where you must say "no." If a request doesn't match with your goals, ethics, or style, it's appropriate to say "no." When the message delivered is not a pleasant one, you must ensure that the message and the delivery match. Often, our nonverbal behaviors are so strong or mismatched that they become a distraction from our message. A "no" is a "no." - Stacey Hanke, Stacey Hanke Inc.
11. When It Is The Correct Answer
If you are asked a question and the answer is "no" then say "no." If you are asked to do something unethical, or inappropriate, then say "no." In general, never be afraid to say "no" if, in fact, it is the right answer. Don't lie and don't compromise your values by doing otherwise. - Donald Hatter,Donald Hatter Inc.
12. If It Helps Me Be A Better Boss
I want my team members to tell me the truth. It helps me delegate, assign tasks, and position people in the company when I know what parts of their job they feel invigorated by and which parts they dread. I encourage an open dialog around their tasks and roles. It helps me be a better boss if they let me know what things feel like a strong "no" for them. - Amanda Frances, Amanda Frances Inc
13. When You're Stretched Too Thin
It's OK to say no if you've been assigned too many responsibilities without enough resources, training or bandwidth, and the work or your health will suffer. A good leader will appreciate you speaking up, managing up and setting realistic boundaries. - Lizabeth Czepiel, Lizabeth Czepiel, LLC
14. The Choice Should Always Be There
A workplace where people can't say "no" on a regular basis likely has overwhelmed and stressed employees. Saying "yes" to a request requires being able to say "no." It's impossible to do everything. Fearing repercussion for saying "no" leads to long to-do lists with a lot less getting done. The freedom to say both "yes" and "no" when appropriate leads to greater autonomy and trust. - David Butlein, Ph.D., BLUECASE Strategic Partners