Ask Away: Is It Ever Okay to Say ‘No’ at Work?

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NoWelcome to Ask AwayEvery Monday, we pose an employment-related question to a group of experts and share their answers. Have a question you’d like to ask the expertsLeave it in the comments, and you might just see it in next week’s Ask Away!

This Week’s Question: You have a job to do, and you answer to a boss — but is it ever okay to say “no” at work? When, if ever, do you have the power to decline to do something a supervisor or colleague asks you to do? Are there ever instances when you should say “no”?

“I love when my employees say ‘no’ to me. It means they are thinking for themselves, as opposed to just following an archaic method of top-down leadership.

“However, I do not expect to receive a ‘no’ without an explanation. I want my workers to reason — to think intelligently — to transform our company, Royce Leather, into something better than it is today.”

– Andrew Royce Bauer
Royce Leather 

“1.) [Say ‘no’ when] you can’t do your job: At your job, you probably have core things that you’re responsible for (account management, customer support, etc.), but you also have other auxiliary responsibilities. When you a hit point when these auxiliary things get in the way of your core duties, it’s time to refocus on what’s important. Say no to things that cause you to lose focus or incorrectly prioritize

“2.) [Say ‘no’ when] you don’t understand the requirements: Your colleague wants you to come for support to the next project meeting. If you don’t know the goal of the meeting, or it isn’t clear from the agenda how you’ll add value, skip it. Say no to requests that just aren’t thought out. They’ll only end up wasting time.”

– Sean Higgins
ilos Videos 

“First, you must know what your job requirements are. If you are asked to do more, or asked to do the job of someone else, then you can say ‘no.’ It is not about being rude; it is about setting boundaries and valuing yourself. If you do not value yourself, than no one else will. At the end of the day, if you loose your job because you set a boundary and valu[ed] yourself, then why would you want to work for [that company] anyway?”

– Leo Willcocks
Author, Consultant 

“Too many employees want to do a great job or impress their bosses. In doing so, they often say ‘yes’ to requests from supervisors when they know they may not be the best for the job or have the time to complete it. This ends up leaving employees to fail at doing something they committed to, which can make them look unreliable in their supervisors’ eyes.

“Instead of saying ‘yes’ when you don’t feel confident, say, ‘I would love to, but could I please get some assistance in this area where I am not quite the strongest? I really am excited to learn!’ You’ll be looked at positively and get the chance to learn something new.

“Instead of saying ‘yes’ when you don’t have the time, say, ‘I have to get this done by a deadline first. Can the task wait, or does it take priority over these other things?’ Let the supervisor decide what is the best use of your time — but make sure they know you’d love to help.”

– Joshua Rubin
Creative California 

“It is absolutely okay to say ‘no’ at work! I believe a big part of being a professional is knowing your limitations. You should always know what the expectations of the job are and plan on being a team player. Sometimes you’ll be asked to do things that fall outside of your job description, and it’s important to say ‘yes’ as much as you can. But, you need to know your limits, and this is when it’s okay to say ‘no.’ Be graceful when saying ‘no’ at work, and help your supervisor or coworker[s] understand what you have on your plate. Let them know you’ll be happy to help out when you have more bandwidth. A good workplace should respect your limits — and more importantly, saying ‘no’ can help an employee [avoid] burnout.”

– Heather Neisen
HR Manager

“I believe that saying ‘no’ is the trait of the most successful people in the world. Having the confidence to say no — at the right times — shows bosses that you have focus and confidence. Important qualities.

“Reasonable bosses would want you to say ‘no’ if that extra work would compromise what you’re working on at the moment, if it would cause excessive stress, or [if it would] lead to an [unfavorable] outcome.”

– Sandip Sekhon
CEO and Founder 

“There are always circumstances when you should say ‘no.’ What scares me is that so many employees let stupidity trump logic.

“Your company is not paying you to say ‘yes.’ [It is] paying you to think. I’m known for telling my teams, ‘At least 25 percent of what I’m going to suggest is completely wrong. It’s our job to work together to figure out what that 25 percent is. If something feels stupid, it probably is. Let’s talk about it. Either way, we both learn.'”

– Karin Hurt
Author and CEO
Let’s Grow Leaders 

“It is best not to agree to anything that could potentially cause your job performance and productivity to suffer. Even if your boss tries to pressure you into taking the assignment, remain firm in your position and calmly let them know that your schedule is packed and that you are unable to take on extra work.

“If your boss insists, make sure you are fully aware of the details of what you’re getting yourself into. For instance, higher-ups may not be particularly specific in their requests. In [such cases], you can ask them how much time you will need to devote to complete the assignment. This way, instead of taking on more than you can handle, you can inform [your bosses] of any ongoing projects or preplanned arrangements so that they can help accommodate your needs.”

– Michael Lan
Senior Resume Consultant
Resume Writer Direct 

“In general the correct, answer at work is ‘yes’ almost all the time, but here are the rare times that it is okay to say ‘no’:

“1.) You are asked to take on the work of another coworker because they are lazy or disorganized and you have been picking up the slack for this person for quite some time. As long as your boss is aware of this issue, it is okay to say ‘no’ to saving this person yet again.

“2.) When you are under the weather and approaching burnout because you have been putting in long hours. It is okay to say ‘no’ as long as you also say it’s a ‘no’ for now until you can get some proper rest. Setting healthy self-care boundaries for yourself is okay.

“3.) If you think the [request] is outside of your expertise and/or your comfort level … you have to say ‘no’ and let [your bosses] know that you always enjoy the excitement of working on new things, but this is not something that you feel is using your skills in the best way. Be sure to recommend something that you think would [fit your] skills.”

– Kathi Elster
Executive Coach and Business Strategist
K Squared Enterprises 

By Matthew Kosinski