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How to say 'No' at work

An image of Nikki Vivian, Career Coach and owner of From Kids to Career.
By Nikki Vivian, Career Coach
November 20, 2017
A hand stopping the domino effect.

Going above and beyond is a great trait to have. It will make you stand out as reliable and driven, it’s admirable within a team if you can help colleagues out and ensures excellent customer and client relations. However, while being that ‘yes’ person can be beneficial to you and others, no one can be that person all the time and sometimes it’s necessary to say ‘no.' 

Taking on more than expected at work can take its toll in many ways. It’s also really important that people don’t take advantage of your good nature and that ‘extras’ don’t become the norm. There is a fine line between going the extra mile and being taken advantage of. 

 

When is it ok to say no?

  • Taking on work that isn’t in your pay grade- Stepping up and taking on work that’s above your usual level is a great way to get you noticed and can do wonders for your professional development. However, make sure you aren’t continually working above your grade without being compensated for it. Helping out and taking on a challenge is one thing but it needs to be temporary. As soon as it becomes the norm, you need to either say ‘no’ or ask for your position to be regraded to take the new level of work into consideration. 
  • You need a break- It’s ok to admit that you’re stressed. If there is no way you can take on any more without reaching a breaking point, you need to stop. Suffering burnout means you’ll have gone from being valuable to being a burden. It’s of no value to you or your employer. 
  • You have a life- At the end of the day, no matter how much you love your job, it’s normal and healthy to want a life outside. Maybe you have children and can’t do extra hours because of school pick-ups, maybe you have other commitments outside of work, or maybe you just want to leave work at the end of the day and not have to worry about it when you get home. These reasons are perfectly acceptable, and you shouldn’t feel bad for saying ‘no’ when work eats into your own time.

 

How to say ‘no’ without seeming negative

  • Have some responses prepared- Rather than being caught off guard and stuttering an excuse on the spot, have some answers that you can draw on when you are asked to do something you’re not comfortable with. For example: ‘Thank you for asking me, but I am over-scheduled with other projects right now.' 
  • Be firm- If you mean ‘no’ say ‘no.' Don’t give an ambiguous response. You are less likely to be backed into a corner if you give a firm ‘no.' Saying ‘no’ doesn’t mean you are rude, it just means you are assertive, and if you give a good reason, there is no reason it should be taken as negative. For example: ‘No, I’m afraid I have family obligations on a Saturday that I can’t change.' Don’t leave your response open for any persuasion. End with something positive but firm like, ‘I hope you can find someone else.' 
  • Negotiate if necessary- If it just isn’t going to be acceptable to say ‘no’ then offer an alternative. For example: ‘I’m sorry, I can’t attend the event tonight, but I can work on tomorrow to cover the person who does attend.' 

 

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Nikki Vivian is a Career Coach and owner of From Kids to Career, which was set up to support women who are returning to a career, or looking to move in a new direction after taking time out to raise a family. Nikki works with Mums to find their true passions and to re-build confidence that can be lost after a break from the work place. She believes passionately that being a parent does not put you at the bottom of the pile when it comes to your career. Nikki owns CV writing company Confident CV and has 8 years experience working in Careers for Cardiff University.

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