Too much work and not enough time to do it in? Learn to say 'No' nicely!

There are times in everyone's life when they are working to capacity; times when it does not make sense to take on more work as there is the strong possibility that nothing will get done properly. Saying 'No' however, is not always easy particularly when the request has come from a superior, perhaps someone who can influence your chances of promotion.

Here are a few tips to help you overcome just such a situation but without losing respect:

Outcome Planning

Recognise when you want to say 'no'. Acknowledge any negative feelings you have at the prospect of saying 'yes'. Decide what outcome you want to achieve and your fallback position. What compromises can you suggest as an alternative if you don't get what you want?

Positive Attitude

Acknowledge your right. 'I have the right to define my limits, to look after my needs and to say 'no'.


Let the person know how you feel about saying 'no'. For example 'I feel awkward about refusing, but I don't want to undertake a new Project right now' Self disclose how you feel about the effect of the request, for example, 'I would feel very pressured if I took on another project right now'.

Be Clear and Specific

Say 'no' or 'I don't want ...' instead of 'possibly' or 'perhaps' which are less direct and could result in the other person believing they can get you to change your mind.

Explain your Feelings and Reasons

For example, 'I would feel compromised to ... because I am already committed to ...'

Use Assertive Body Language

Use a firm voice and good eye contact


Show that you understand the other person's point of view, for example, 'I can understand that you want the groundwork done now, but my current commitments mean I cannot start for two weeks ...' Remember, you are rejecting the request not the person!

Workable compromise

Show that you want to resolve the situation and that you are not rejecting the person but their request. Offer an acceptable alternative, for example, 'I wont be able to start the project full-time until October, but I could meet you for a briefing so I am ready in October'.

Sell the Benefits

'If I start the project in October, I can give it my undivided attention'.

Negative Enquiry

Check whether your refusal will present a real problem. 'What problems do you envisage if I start in October rather than September?'

Explore Alternatives

It may be that the requester has become attached to one idea without considering either the alternatives or the consequences of not getting their request met. If you can life the debate from whether or not you will meet their request to one of exploring alternatives, you could both emerge satisfied and positive.

Back to Zack's Tips