If you blindly accept any duty or project that comes along, you’re not doing yourself or the company any favors. If you’re spread too thin, someone or something will suffer for it. Learn how to say no.


One of the casualties of the bad economy is that fewer people will use the word “no” in the workplace. With the real or imagined specter of the layoff boogeyman lurking in every hallway, employees feel that turning down any project or responsibility will mark them as dispensible, so they keep taking on new duties until they’re turning in 60- or 70-hour workweeks.

Even the self-employed are not immune. Even though you may sense that a prospective client will be more trouble than he’s worth, something — fear of poverty, perhaps — propels you to take that client on anyway.

But, for your own sanity and the quality of your work, you must learn to say no (occasionally, you understand, and when it’s in your own best interest to do so). I’m not saying that you should learn the word “no” in 12 different languages so you are prepared to reject every suggestion directed your way. That would definitely get the attention of your manager and not in a good way.

At the same time, as a manager myself, I must say that I really need my staffers to tell me no when I’m making an unreasonable request or if the requested task pushes bandwidth too far. If they don’t, then I’ll just keep piling it on until the day one of them climbs a watchtower.

Don’t mislead your manager by blindly accepting an assignment and then missing the deadline because you bit off more than you can chew. When people say yes to everything, something is going to suffer.

Let me just say here that I’ve come to realize over the years from reading the TechRepublic forums that many of you work for ogres who would eat their young and that “no” may not seem like an option. But there’s a way to do it. Here are some tips:

  • Be polite but direct and stick to your guns. Don’t feel like you have to run down a laundry list of your other duties just to justify the turn-down.
  • Avoid self-deprecation. If you decline by saying you’re not the right person for the job, the requester is just going to insist that you are in order to make you feel better.

I read a piece in Forbes magazine a couple of years ago that said:

“Most people overestimate the fallout from denying a request, and underestimate the consequences of agreeing.” Remember that the next time the ogre stops by.