Positive Ways to Say No

Considering “no” is one of the first words we learn as children, it’s amazing how hard it is to say as an adult.

Why do we have such a difficult time saying no? We worry that it will hurt our relationships or our job security. Will my supervisor think I can’t handle the work and responsibility? Will I miss out on a chance for advancement? Will I disappoint my friends if I don’t join this committee? If I don’t do it, who will?

If you learn to say “no” effectively, you won’t take on more than you can handle—and you’ll preserve your relationships at the same time.

Here’s a strategy: Present a positive statement, say “no,” and propose an alternative solution.

You might say, for example, “I’d really love to chair that committee. I think they are doing important work. This year, I’m so busy at work, that I don’t think I’d give it the attention it needs. How about I help recruit volunteers for the spring picnic and contribute that way instead?” This shows that you want to help in a way that you can commit to completely.

When it comes to saying no at work, use a similar strategy. “I can take on that new project, but if we want to give it the attention it needs, I’ll need to delegate my [insert responsibility] work to someone else on the team. I think [coworker’s name] may be ready to take that on.”

In other words, if you want to say yes, find a positive way to say no to something else already on your plate. Above all, be honest with yourself and others about what you have the time and energy to do and do well.

You might also like: Setting Boundaries for Better Time Management.

Learning how to say no is part of setting boundaries. We can help you get better at it, so you can be more effective at work and at home. Inquire about our workshops.