Here are 6 simple methods that are helping employees to say No at work

How to say noWhen was the last time you said “No” to someone?

If you are like me, then you often feel obliged to answer with “Yes”. Even worse, you feel guilty when you say “No” to someone, even if what you did was not for your own benefit.

So, would you like to learn 6 simple ways that are helping employees (and managers) to say “No” at work?

If yes, keep reading.

Why is it so difficult to say No sometimes?

Many people out there are like you and me, they have difficulties to turn someone down. Now, that does not mean that they always answer “Yes” to everything, but they also do not want to feel guilty and therefore, they tend to give priority to someone else’s needs before their own.

What would you say are some explanations as to why people find it often difficult to say “No”?

Here are the most common ones I came across:

  • You want to be helpful. Do you like to do people a favor?
  • You respect the person. When people of a certain seniority level ask you to complete a task you commonly do it. Whether it is your manager or your mother. This type of respect could also be linked to a fear of conflict or simply be afraid of being rude.
  • You hate feeling guilty. You do it, because you know nobody else will do it. And if it does not get done, the others will blame you.
  • You do not want to miss out. People have the tendency to respond “Yes” sooner than “No”, because they fear to miss out on an opportunity.

Before we look into the methods, I would like to share with you a short talk of Steve Jobs in 1997 (I apologize upfront for the low quality) who explains why saying “No” is part of focusing on the important things.


How to say No at work

During the last years, there were many occasions where I wished I would have said “No”. At the same time, I realized that when I was under a big time and workload pressure it was easier for me to say “No” to some topics, because I did not want to work at the limit of my capacity for a long time. From then on, I used “No” more often at work, and to my surprise, people understood and did not react as negatively as I originally thought.

So, if you are unsure of how to say “No”, I share with you 6 simple techniques which are applicable for different situations. Just try one or two of them next time when someone is coming into your office.


1. The Timing Method
I am sorry, I’d love to do this, but I am busy with something else right now.

Most employees are already quite busy with the current tasks they have at their hand. So, why not make this clear next time someone is interrupting you on your current task and asks you to help out?

2. The Delay Method

Can I think about it first? I will get back to you soon.

While the first factor is focusing on the bad timing of the colleague asking you, it is also a good approach to buy yourself some time. Often we are being asked and have to give an immediate answer. This is one of my recent favorites, as I do not appreciate it a lot to be put under pressure in a given moment.

3. The Expertise Method

I am sorry, but I do not believe that I am the right person to answer this question. This is not my field of expertise. Have you asked Person X?

This method should be relatively easy to use, if you are really not the expert on the questioned topic. You could offer to help bridging the gap to the other person in charge.

Apparently, there are some people who use this method, if they have no interest or not enough time to deal with the topic, even though they would know the answer. In this case, I can only recommend to be as diplomatic as possible, and why not stick to the truth?

4. The Workload Method

I am very busy and I my agenda is pretty much full until the end of next month.

Even though colleagues often know who is busy with what topic and with what kind of workload, in many cases there are priority matters which need to be dealt with first. However, there are also topics which are ‘being made’ a priority topic, so that people address it immediately, even though it might not be as important. In either case, if you workload is high, use something long the lines of the sentence suggested above to make clear that you also have other priorities and that you cannot change your agenda to suit everyone’s needs.
Certainly, there are always exceptions to the rules.

5. The Childhood Method

I am sorry, this topic does not meet my needs for the project I am working on right now, but I will keep you informed if this changes.

When I was little, I have to admit, saying “No” was not always as hard as it is now. Why? I guess back then, I was trying out my barriers and protecting my own interests, just like any other child. So, why are we not doing it so much when growing older? I would suggest to think about your actual benefits from completing the requested task. Are there any? If yes, do they match your current needs? If not, I encourage you to try out above answer.

6. The Goal Method

No, sorry, I cannot help you out.

This last method is also the most straight forward way on how to say No at work. Do we really always need to give an explanation to everything we say? I do not think so, but it depends on who is asking.

Does this task contribute to the work goals that you have set yourself for the next week, month or year? If not, be honest about it.

This is also the category that the Steve Jobs Video falls under, as in his scenario saying “No” is part of achieving a long-term goal and strategy.

Speaking of goals, why not set yourself a goal for how many times per week or per month you want to say No?


I hope the above techniques will be helpful for your next attempt to reject a request by a colleague in the office. You might have noticed, that there are people out there who are experts on saying “No”, and unless we want to compete with them, I would prefer to keep a healthy balance of accepting and rejecting such requests, otherwise nobody wants to work with me anymore.

Now, how do you say “No” at work? Are you ready to try one of the methods mentioned above? Share with us in the comments.

Image courtesy: iStockphoto


  1. Yes. Yes. Yes. Saying no is definitely liberating! The first time I said no to photographing someone’s wedding, I felt terrible at the time, relief immediately after, followed by happiness.

    I knew this couple weren’t a good fit for me and me for them. I recommended other photographers that I thought were a better fit and believe I did the right thing.

    Since then I’ve done the same thing a couple of times and I think the best way to judge if you’ve done the right thing is how you feel afterwards.

    Saying no can definitely be a good thing.

    Thanks for your post.

    • Jantje Bartels says:

      Sounds like you have made some positive experiences with saying ‘no’, great! I guess we gain confidence with each time we stick to our needs.

  2. I agree that saying no is often a requirement but it is important to know WHEN to say no and WHEN to say yes. Often that can be decided by who your saying no. If it is a customer then be careful, often that is a bad choice.

    Just my thoughts.
    Robert Harper recently posted…A tale of two companiesMy Profile

  3. Good advice. Sayin No can be very difficult, but most of us need to at least once in awhile. I think it is also important to consider future possibilities or opportunities. If someone could potentially help us out in the future, we need to do our best to help them out now, so that they won’t tell us no!
    Sarah @ International Blessings recently posted…When you just gotta go. . . find a bush!My Profile

    • Jantje Bartels says:

      You are right, Sarah! It always depends. This post is mostly intended for those who might need a bit more than an incentive to stop saying yes too often.

  4. Oh, yeah….this is something that a lot of people struggle with. Me, on the other hand, find it easy to tell people “no.” I think part of it is knowing that I’m a bit selfish, it’s sad to say 🙂 But part of me is practical and know that things may be not good for me. For example, the last time I told someone no was a few days ago, when my sis asked me to cosign on a $5,000 loan for her so she could “pay some things off” until some other money was going to be coming her way later, at which time she’d pay me back. I quickly said “NO” because I know that cosigning is a huge “NEVER DO IT!” thing. lol. It always ends badly. LOL. She responded with, “Don’t you trust me?!” And I said, “Even if Mom asked, I STILL wouldn’t cosignn.” That was that. I doubt she will ever ask again 🙂 No guilt whatsoever. She’ll get over it. And most people will get over it when they hear “no.”
    Thanks for sharing!
    Serena @ Thrift Diving recently posted…The Makeover of a Wooden Play Kitchen!My Profile

    • Jantje Bartels says:

      Wow, that is a strong “no”! Thank you for sharing the details! I guess money is somewhat special in this context.

    • I ran into a similar situation when my family asked me for money.

      Initially, I gave them some money, but it was only once. Apparently, I am the only one who can balance the books.

      Needless to say, saying no is even harder when you have said yes before. It feels like you’re slamming the door in someone’s face.


      • Jantje Bartels says:

        I agree, Iain, I had a similar situation once!
        Something which is also interesting to observe is when you say ‘yes’, before the person is asking the obvious question. I guess there are still many very generous people out there despite the “ego” hype.

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