How to say no to your boss

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How to say no to your boss

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You are completely overwhelmed with work. But your boss either doesn’t know or doesn’t care and here they come with a new request. Can you just say “No”?

No. Well, you can. But you shouldn’t. Just as it’s a word you should try to avoid in job interviews, it’s also a word you should limit in your interactions with your manager. Of course, sometimes they may have unreasonable demands. But shooting them directly will probably cause you more trouble.

By that we mean say no and walk away. Of course, you can still decline the request in some circumstances, as long as you do so in a well-thought-out, polite way that is more likely to elicit a positive response.

Good reasons

There are some bad reasons to say no – if you’re afraid to learn or try something new, for example. But there are also several good reasons to do so. They include:

You are really overwhelmed with work

You already have so much work on your plate that you’re not sure if you’ll ever get it done. It would not be possible for you to agree to take on one more project or task. You’ll either have to neglect your other responsibilities or produce poor results, neither of which will impress your boss.

You lack the necessary skill set

If you don’t have the right skill set to do the job, you won’t be able to do it satisfactorily. Just say it. Otherwise, you’ll struggle with a project not meeting expectations.

Of course, there are some things you can learn quickly. If it won’t take you too long to get up to speed, then you probably don’t have the right to refuse.

There are competing priorities

Maybe you have a meeting to attend—one that your boss forgot about or didn’t know about in the first place—and that would interfere with your ability to complete that extra project. Or maybe there are other competing priorities. This is an important reason; after all, you can’t do two things at once.

You have a personal or family emergency.

If you have a truly personal or family emergency, such as the death of a loved one, that’s a very good excuse not only to refuse to take on another project, but also a good reason to call into work. Most likely, your company already has a policy in place for such situations. But if not, you should talk to your boss about your circumstances and how you need to be supported.

It is immoral, unethical or illegal

Hopefully, this is an occasion you will encounter rarely, if ever. But your boss may ask you to do something that goes against the company’s principles or your own. They may even ask you to do something illegal. This is unacceptable and may be the most important reason to say no. This situation often warrants further action, such as reporting to a higher-up or even seeking legal remedies.

Saying it

These approaches will help the conversation flow more smoothly.

Give a specific, valid reason

Instead of saying, “I can’t do it,” give a real, specific reason. If, for example, you have competing priorities, like the aforementioned example of an important meeting, lay it all out.

“I’d be happy to, but I have this meeting with the sales team this afternoon.”

“I wish I could, but I have assignments A, B, and C to finish by the end of this week.”

Your boss will likely accept this answer and may suggest a way around it or find an alternative way to complete the task. Or they may change the project specifications, such as increasing the deadline, to accommodate your schedule.

Rephrase your statement

“No” can be a harsh word, as simple as it sounds. It is inherently negative. So instead of framing it negatively, try to reframe it.

“I really wish I could, but I’m not sure it’s feasible given X, Y, and Z.”

“Um, I have so much going on right now. Can we change the time frame?

We often don’t think carefully enough about what we say and how we say it. Paying more attention to how you frame things will almost certainly positively affect your interactions in other ways as well.

Suggest an alternative

Maybe you don’t agree with the idea your manager wants you to execute. Or maybe you can’t do it successfully. Instead of rejecting it outright, try to suggest an alternative route.

“What do you think of so and so?”

“May I suggest further [or alternative] Approaching?”

“Would you consider doing X instead or in addition to this?

If you outright reject or dismiss an idea, it makes your boss defensive. You shouldn’t put anyone in that position. And if you do it to an authority figure, you’ll be putting yourself and your career at risk. It will look like you don’t respect them.

Be empathetic

Demonstrate that you understand your boss’s point of view before immediately dismissing him. This will make them feel heard and understood. If you say no right away, they will be less inclined to listen to you and agree to your alternative proposal.

“I understand where you’re coming from. How about we do X?’

“That makes a lot of sense. Maybe we could combine ideas and make [Y]?”

Ask for help

People like to be asked for their help, unless the help you’re asking for is an undue burden on them. But generally speaking, it shows that you respect their opinion and that they can be a real asset to you. And of course, everyone wants to feel appreciated.

So instead of just saying no, you can’t do something, reframe it by asking for their help.

“I have a lot of competing priorities right now. Could you help me prioritize my to-do list?’

“I have too [X project] on my plate right now. I’d actually love to hear your thoughts on this. Maybe we can go over it before I get busy [Y project]?”

This will also help your boss see everything that’s going on, which can make him rethink the team’s priorities and what you need to do first.

Show the evidence

Nothing supports your point like concrete facts. If you have evidence, use it.

“I’m not sure if I can fit this on my to-do list. Here, let me open the tracker and show you what I’ve been up to.’

“The results of our last campaign suggest that we need to spend more time [X] than [Y]. Let me show you the analytics…”

Offer to share the load

The fact remains: there is work on the table that needs to be done. If you can’t do it, try offering an alternative or sharing the work with a colleague.

“I have a lot going on at the moment but I know Lisa is really good [skill]. Maybe I can handle that part of the project and she can take on the other part.”

“I have the sales meeting at the same time as this meeting. But maybe Lisa can come in my place? I know she was eager to take on more responsibilities.’

Not only does this help ease your burden, but it can give colleagues opportunities to prove themselves.

Smart timing

Has there been a significant setback in the company? Did you make a mistake – one that could cost you dearly? Is your boss stressed about work or a personal problem? This is not the right time to raise an issue with a request.

You can’t always control it – you never know when your boss will decide when to leave a task on your plate. But when you can, try to plan your response so that you don’t pile it on top of the bad news.

This article was written by FairyGodBoss and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.

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