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Learn to Say No

During my first job as a consultant, my client told me that I had the ability to say no while making other people feel good about it. I think it was a compliment! It wasn’t something I planned but when I analysed my approach I realised I was protecting my work time so I could deliver on my commitments. I always tried to help but if I couldn’t at the time I would explain and offer an alternative. Read these tips to learn to say no.

Saying Yes is Natural

For most of us saying yes comes more naturally than saying no. People genuinely want to help people. We want to be known as “a team player” and don’t want to be difficult. We don’t want to appear overloaded with work either, as if we can’t cope within our role. So learning to say no is a skill most of us have to develop.

Say No By Saying Yes

So how do we do it? Well the best way to say No is actually to say Yes. By that I mean say no to doing the task at the time of the request but say yes to a time that suits you better. Take control. But do this professionally with consideration so that the requester understands and is happy with your alternative suggestion. And then follow through.

The requests we receive loosely fall into two categories:

  1. A request from a colleague for help or advice
  2. A request from your boss to do extra work over what was agreed


If you can’t help straight away offer an alternative time that suits both schedules. Alternatively consider if you are the only one who can help? If help is needed immediately direct the requester to a report or training material or another expert.


If you are already working to a plan that was agreed with your boss then you are in a good position to negotiate. Offer to do the additional work but point out, “this is what I am working on based on the plan we agreed. I will happily do this new work but I may need to push out one of these tasks“.

So your objective is to get approval to free up time to do the new task. That way if one of the original tasks doesn’t get done, there is a common understanding why. If your boss insists that you still do everything, at least you have provided a reminder of your current workload based on the agreed plan. This can be a subtle way to highlight that your boss is being unreasonable, maybe unintentionally.


As with most business interactions the tone of delivery will greatly affect how your message is received. Find your own words. Use your judgement about how best to position your response. Consider the other persons’ perspective. If you are clear in your own head about why you are responding the way you are, it will start to come naturally.


Of course there are times when we need to just drop what we are doing and help. Again we have to use our judgment and knowledge of our work situation to  identify these times.  This will not be a time for alternatives or rescheduling.


  1. Strive to say yes if you can
  2. If you can’t, explain your reasons professionally
  3. Provide an alternative
  4. Be committed to the alternative
  5. Negotiate priorities if saying yes

Saying No can Increase Your Credibility

Saying no from time to time can actually increase your credibility, as long as it’s done in a professional way. It can sometimes be the right thing to do for your role, your team and your organisation.

Saying no successfully is all about using your judgement. It’s a trade-off between being helpful and being in control of your own work life.

Take Control

I hope these tips help you take back control of your time. If you would like to learn more on how to get more done, contact for information on

Check our Articles section for more productivity and time management tips on Managing EmailReducing StressManaging Your Attention

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Photo by Gemma Evans on Unsplash

Moira Dunne