NoSaying no to a boss is nerve-wracking and induces fears for retaliation. No one wants to do it, but if you value your job, you should be prepared to decline assignments when necessary. Saying no is preferable to doing a subpar job, and your boss is likely to respect your honesty. Use these tips to say “no” to requests professionally and with integrity.

The most effective way to say no is to provide your boss with a good reason for your response. The reasons for turning down assignments are typically that you are too busy to take on another responsibility or that you are unqualified to do a good job at the requested task. If you are too busy, make a list of all of your current projects and responsibilities to share with your boss. Include data about projected time requirements, anticipated project completion dates and your own time management strategies so that your boss knows you are handling your responsibilities well. This shows your boss your commitment to current projects and that they would suffer with additional tasks.

If you are saying no due to a lack of abilities, be upfront and honest. State that you feel that you are not currently capable of doing a good job at the new task. This would be a great time to discuss educational opportunities or mentorships that could add valuable skills to your repertoire.

Another method of saying no is to avoid the word “no” altogether. Instead, share information with your boss that will lead him to see that the assignment is not right for you. For example, if you are already spread too thin, ask your boss to go over your schedule with you to help you see how you can fit in a new assignment without harming your current projects. Include time data and your own time management strategies. If your boss feels that the new project is a priority for you, he has the option of removing another task from your list. After seeing how busy you are, it is likely that he will delay the project or assign it to someone else.

Soften a “no” answer by providing your boss with options to get the new assignment completed. Perhaps you know of someone in your department who is more qualified than you and truly enjoys that type of work. Maybe you can think of a way to modify the assignment so that you could handle it. Consider offering to do part of the task or to provide guidance to a capable subordinate who is looking to move up. Offering options when turning down assignments shows that you take initiative and turns saying no into a chance to show off other skills, such as flexibility and leadership.

Regardless of your reason for saying no and the approach that you take, remember that saying no is almost always better than failing. Stand up for yourself and your professional integrity by keeping your workload sane. A well-reasoned refusal when necessary keeps your work relationships, integrity, and productivity strong.


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