The Proper Way to Say "No" in the Workplace

Put your foot down and still keep your job.

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Chrissy Scivicque
Chrissy Scivicque
There's an epidemic spreading throughout corporate America. To-do lists are out of control. Record numbers of people are suffering from burnout. Stress levels are through the roof. Why? Well, one reason is that the vast majority of workers are afraid of saying on simple word: No.

Most people worry that they'll sound rude, or lazy, or stubborn, or arrogant, or any-number-of-things. They worry that no one will take them seriously or that they won't look like a team player. We're taught to be positive in the workplace and "no" is decidedly negative. So, far too many people have gotten used to always saying "yes" instead.

There is definitely a right way and a wrong way to set limits in the workplace. If you fall into the common traps of the wrong way, you very well could end up facing all those fears mentioned previously. To avoid negative fallout from saying "no" in the workplace, keep reading. Here are five things to avoid at all cost.

1. Jumping the gun. You say "no" too quickly without making sure that you really understand what's being asked of you.

This is an easy way to make people feel frustrated and unheard. And it may not resolve your problem. This person will likely try again since, in his mind, you didn't really get a chance to think about it.

2. Overly lengthy explanations. You go on and on about why you're saying "no," making it look like you feel guilty or unsure of yourself.

Ultimately, all that talk just sounds like a great big excuse. The reason is definitely worth sharing but it isn't all that important to the other person. They need to know the end result so they can move on. Keep your explanation brief and concise. If you talk too much, you could actually talk yourself back into saying "yes." It happens, and it's not pretty.

3. Changing your mind. You say "no" and then later you go back on it and say "yes."

Big mistake. That sets the precedent that people don't need to respect your decision because, if they just add more pressure, you'll eventually cave in.

4. Being overly emotional. You want to demonstrate just how overwhelmed you are and why saying no is absolutely unavoidable, so you show your fragile, near-breakdown state. Or, the thought of saying "no" makes you so stressed out the conversation turns emotional.

Look, you don't have to convince anyone and being emotional will only make it look like you're not thinking clearly. This is yet another easy way for people to avoid taking you seriously.

5. Not offering solutions. You just drop the "no" bomb and walk away.

This is a surefire way to make others angry and it's probably the No. 1 reason saying "no" has such a bad rap. You don't want to leave people in a lurch. Just because you say "no" to accepting a new task, for example, doesn't make it go away. It still has to get done. If you say "no" and offer no alternative solution, you're just creating a new problem. You're not thinking of the good of the team; you're only thinking of yourself. Offering solutions is a way of showing that you understand the request is important and care about the outcome.

Chrissy Scivicque, the founder of, believes work can be a nourishing life experience. As a career coach, corporate trainer, and public speaker, she helps professionals of all levels unlock their true potential and discover long-lasting career fulfillment.