How To Say ‘No’ At Work Without Looking Like A Slacker


As much as we wish we could, we can’t please everyone all the time. More importantly, when it comes to work, sometimes we just have too much on our plates to add something else. But how do we say “no” to the boss or coworker who’s relying on us to take on the extra task? There is a way that you can respectfully say “no” in the workplace without compromising your place as a true team player. Here’s our four-step plan to successfully doing so.

Step 1: Take the time to consider your colleague’s request.

Even if you know in your heart that you can’t possibly get all of your work done plus this new project within work hours, take a beat and think about what you could potentially gain from saying yes. In the rare case that you’d be willing to work on this project after hours, you’d obviously want it to be worth it. For example, your colleague was put in charge of a huge account, and they just asked you for your help on it. If you could seriously benefit from joining in, consider switching things around. If you don’t see this as a huge opportunity — and taking on the extra task would take you away from your important assigned tasks — then you know the answer is “no.”

Step 2: Take your colleague aside in person to discuss the situation.


Above everything else, make sure you talk to your colleague in person about the request. There is nothing worse than sending your boss a reply email, saying, “Sorry, I don’t have time to do that!” Prioritizing a face-to-face discussion with this person shows that you’re invested in their request and that you respect them enough to talk it out.

Step 3: Explain respectfully why you can’t fulfill his or her request.

Here’s the deal: There are a number of reasons why you can’t say “yes” to your colleague’s request. So, in your delivery, just make sure it doesn’t sound like you’re making an excuse — and don’t make up an excuse to get out of completing the task, either. A few good reasons why you should turn down a request to work on something new are that the new task would hinder the completion of your current job, you aren’t knowledgeable enough to jump on the project or the project doesn’t work toward a key goal of the company. You can address the request by using one of these reasons, saying, “Thank you so much for thinking of me for this project, but my plan was to spend the next few days prioritizing X.” Especially if you’re saying no to your boss here, you’re giving him or her the option to let you know if you have the ability to reprioritize your workload to include this new project.

Step 4: Offer an alternative.

Even though you can’t immediately help your colleague with their request, offer your expertise or help another time. If the project can wait a while, offer to work on it with your colleague at a later date when your workload isn’t so crazy or when you are physically able. They’ll appreciate that a lot more than a hard “no.”