At Work

How to say 'NO!' to a heavier workload

Deadlines are looming - you have more caffeine than blood running in your veins, and you are seriously contemplating taking your laptop into the toilet with you to maximise the time left before D-Day … and your boss asks if you could put together a 10-minute presentation by tomorrow.

Was that a howl of despair we just heard echoing off the walls?

Take a deep breath. Did you know that you can actually say “No” to tasks? Of course, it’s how you say “No” that matters. Doesn’t the mere idea of being free to make a decision make you feel better already? We share some helpful tips that may allow you to actually go home at a decent hour:

Don't let this be you! Don't let this be you!

Tip #1: Say ‘Yes!’

Okay, we can hear you saying “What?!” but this is really not just a big contradictory statement! Saying no doesn’t mean that you immediately say “NO!” and slam the door in your boss’ face (besides being rude, this is extremely incapacitating to your career progression). Someone adds an item to your towering “To-Do” pile? Say “Okay,” but add a “…But I’m really tied up at the moment with XYZ, so I will not be able to get to this immediately. Can I get this back to you on *insert a deadline that gives you time to breathe here*?” This indicates that you are not refusing the task like a surly non team-player, but that you are instead a person with good time management! And, if they can’t wait until your suggested date, they are welcome to get someone else to do the job. This applies to those working on their own as well.

Tip #2: Suggest an alternative

Career tips always have this piece of advice in common: Don’t give your boss a problem without a solution. So, you can’t do the job. All right, fine. But if you just stop at “Sorry; can’t do it,” people are going to leave feeling distinctively disgruntled. How about suggesting an alternative? You don’t have to shoot a colleague down by suggesting “What about Ted? He seems pretty free.” You could suggest other methods of getting work done without needing so much manpower. Be diplomatic; you could also suggest another avenue in which you could be of help. How about: “Sorry, I really can’t help you do this … but, maybe I could help with another aspect of the project, after I’ve submitted this proposal?”

Tip #3: Stand firm

Nobody is going to take “No” for an answer just like that! They will, understandably, try to change your mind. Beware, though! Being wishy-washy at this point will result in you spending your lunch, dinner and sleep time sobbing over your laptop; so stand firm! Of course, you need concrete reasons to say no; “Um … I need to … feed my cat” is not acceptable. Instead, try “Look, I’d really like to help you out, but my schedule is really full. My deadline is on Thursday and I’m swamped.”

Tip #4: Say it in person

Work relationships are important, and like many important things, they are also fragile. Misconstrued email messages can cause ruptured relationships between co-workers as well as between you and your boss or clients. While you may feel perfectly fine, sometimes email comes off as curt or even rude, so if possible, it’s best to do your naysaying in person! At least that way, others can read your face, tone and body language more accurately.

Tip #5: Put them in your shoes

If the one asking you to do the job is being extremely insistent, lay out the tasks you have to accomplish. Ask them for suggestions as to how you could fit an extra task into your workload. If they can, well then, maybe you’ve been underestimating your juggling abilities …. And, if they can’t, they really have no other recourse than to move on to another person.

Bonus hint: Practise saying “No” in front of the mirror! Learn to say it confidently and yet politely, and not shrink away apologetically, which is what most people do. Good luck!