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Difficult Conversations At Work: Saying No

June 13

While difficult conversations are hard no matter the venue, there’s something about difficult conversations in the workplace that are extra touchy. Whether it’s your boss or a colleague, having to speak up when things are hard can be downright awkward.

We all want to excel at what we do, and in a work situation, it’s easy to get caught up and feel like we have to say yes when what we really want to do is give a resounding no.

But here’s the thing…it’s okay to say no sometimes.

Of course, our employers, employees or colleagues have expectations of what we’ll do during the course of a day. But there are times when we get requests that fall out of our scope or expertise and saying no is actually in everyone’s best interests.

So when should you consider saying no? Here are some common scenarios you may encounter.

#1. It Impacts Your Ability to Take Care of Your Responsibilities

It’s not unusual to be a “yes man” in the workplace, but when you’re being asked to complete a task that isn’t part of your areas of expertise, it may be time to consider saying no. If you have competing priorities and someone wants to add more to your plate that will negatively impact your ability to manage your normal workload, then it’s necessary to consider declining the request.

#2. You Know You Can’t Deliver Results

We all have our areas of expertise and know that there are some things we aren’t skilled at. And that’s okay!

If you’re being asked to do something that you know you are not equipped to deliver on, it’s wise to just say no. Setting ourselves up for failure is absolutely no help to anyone and usually ends up creating more work. By saying no you’re showing that you know your limits and you are, in fact, putting the best interest of the company first.

#3. It Isn’t In Line with a Key Goal

There are times that we get asked to do things that we know are contrary to what we’re trying to accomplish. What tends to happen is that everyone is so caught up in doing X, Y and Z that they may not be looking at the situation critically.

Part of being great at your job is listening to what is being said and objectively looking at how a request may fit into the bigger picture. Saying no when you can’t see the benefit to the “greater good” shows you’re considering resources, time and effort.

So, now that you know when you should consider saying no, there’s the how part of the equation. While I am a strong advocate for giving a strong no, there are times when it’s appropriate to provide some context.

Here are five quick tips for saying no at work:
  • Assess the request: Before going straight to “no”, you should weigh out the feasibility of what is being asked.
  • Be straightforward:  Give your no and succinctly explain your reasoning.
  • Offer alternative solutions:  If there’s  another option for them to get their request fulfilled, let them know.
  • Don’t over-apologize: Delivery counts. You can be firm without being aggressive and you do not need to apologize repeatedly if you start to feel guilty.
  • Be prepared for pushback: Not everyone will appreciate being told no, and you can anticipate people who may push hard to change your mind. This is a great opportunity to hold the space.

Like every other skill, this one gets easier with practice. Every time you have a difficult conversation and stand your ground you are one step closer to ditching the dread from the pit of your stomach and handling future conversations with ease and grace.



See Diane's Fearless Conversations Blog for more tips, tools, and strategies for succeeding in difficult conversations and getting what you want need and deserve out of work and out of life.


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