How to Say NO to your boss without actually saying it


As an employee, you always want to be the best version of yourself at work. A lot of times, that means eagerly taking up new tasks and projects from your teammates. The pitfall of doing this is that you could end up biting off more than you can chew. What should you do when that happens?

Say no.

Obviously, no one likes to hear the word "no" used. They especially dislike hearing no when it's said as a response to their requests. So how can you approach this tactfully and respectfully, without insulting your boss or colleague in the process?

Note: Saying No is something that you need to learn the boundaries of. You shouldn't say no to a task just because you don't like doing it.

Show Appreciation

If the new task is the start of a new project or initiative and the team is requesting you to take charge, show your appreciation. The fact that they're entrusting this project to you means that they trust you to deliver on your work, even if it isn't the right task for you to do or you don't have the capacity to start it.

By showing your appreciation, it sets a positive tone for any discussions regarding the project, and it shows your team that you recognize their decision.

In layman's terms? You're softening the blow for when you eventually tell them "no".

Example: "I'm really happy that you thought of me for this particular project. It sounds like an interesting idea, but I don't have the bandwidth to work on this project at the moment. Would there be someone else we could ask to head up this initiative?"

Discuss Your Current Workload

Talk about your current workload as a way of showing how much you have on your plate. An idea or project can't be executed if you don't have the capacity to take it on. This allows you to either put the idea on the backburner for a future date or assign it to someone else who has more time.

Make sure to speak about your daily tasks, any recurring tasks you have that takes up your time, and any upcoming projects that you have lined up already. Ideally, it would be even better if you could break each down by how much time is allocated towards each task.

Example: "At the moment, I'm working on X, Y, and Z. Each of these tasks take up most of my day, and I have additional tasks as I'm working on one of our newer initiatives. Maybe we could discuss a different timeline for this new idea?"

Break Down Your Priorities

Everybody should be aware of what their priorities are. Whether that's a specific business goal or project initiative that they're focusing on for the quarter, all of the tasks that you work on should be contributing to that specific goal.

If the additional task that your boss brings up doesn't align with the goal that's been set for you and your team, this is where you should say no. Make sure that your boss understands that taking on this extra initiative will NOT get you closer to the business goals that you all set. Focusing on achieving one thing at a time is better than having a lot of things running with no conclusion.

Example: "At the beginning of the quarter, we set our business goals as X, Y, and Z. All of the tasks and projects that we're working on is focused on achieving those business goals. This idea doesn't really align with our goals at the moment, so could we hold on to this idea and wait until our next quarter to discuss it?"

Hopefully, if you're busy juggling projects and you need to put your foot down without stepping on your boss's toes, these tips will help. Just remember that saying no because you don't want to do something is a bad reason to say no. It's always better to say yes and to build up that rapport with your team so that when you do say no, you'll have better leverage.

Chris Chu

Freelance writer, passionate about professional and personal development.

3 min read

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