How to say no at work

According to Game of Thrones creator George RR Martin the sexiest word to say in Hollywood is “No”. It’s probably one of the hardest ones to say in that industry because the riches on offer to writers, producers and actors are life-changing. Even if you’re industry is not as high-pressure, you really should learn how to say “no” at work.

“Yes” man

Don’t start a reputation as someone who always says “yes” and then expect to be able to push work away. That just won’t wash with your management. Bosses always want more. They want to get more time, more work and more results from you without expending any more of their precious budget. Don’t let them if it’ll make you fail at work or put you under too much overall pressure. Begin questioning your boss’s requests. That’s the first way to combat this scenario.

Can you clarify?

We’re not suggesting that you become a pain who always asks for clarification whenever something extra is asked of it. What we’re suggesting is that you ask measured and reasonable questions when more work is piled on you. Begin by asking for a time-frame for the task. Is this additional work on an on-going basis or just for a short while? Check whether your colleagues will also be given more work to deal with. If not, you can always push this point with your boss. It’s unfair for you to be given more work if you’re at the same pay-grade as colleagues who have less to do.


Don’t jump on this question of additional workload immediately because you can’t reasonably argue that the new workload is too much for you to handle until you’ve done it for a decent period of time. Use this time to build up a case, explaining what you are putting aside to make time for this additional work. If some of the work you’re putting aside affects others in the business, you might create an ally who you could point your boss to. You should also quantify the effect this new workload is having on your performance. Are you still hitting your targets? If not, can you point to the new workload as the cause?


If your boss is asking you to do something that you really do not want to do, you will have to refuse. Do this politely and with some well thought through reasons. You don’t need to think this through on the spot. Any reasonable boss will speak to you days after the initial meeting to understand your issues. Don't accept the boss's decision and then get lazy at work to show your dissatisfaction. That never works.

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