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4 Completely Inoffensive Ways to Say “No” at Work

By | Sara McCord |

Sometimes saying “yes” at work is the way to go. Yes to that new project, yes to more responsibility, and yes to that promotion you’ve been eyeing.

But other times, you need to decline. No, you’re too busy, no you’re not interested, or no, you don’t want to work until all hours of the night. Of course, how you phrase your reply makes a big difference. “No, that idea sucks,” is quite different from, “No, I’d like to take a different approach.”

With that in mind, here are four kinds of people you need to say “no” to at work—and diplomatic ways to do it.

1. To Your Boss

Your supervisor asks if you’re able to take on a little more work, but the thing is—you can’t. You’re up to your ears in other projects and you like eating dinner before 9 PM (at your apartment, not at your desk).

It can be a little intimidating to push back when your boss asks you to do something. Skip the flat, “no” or an awkward, passive aggressive, “Well, umm, see I would, it’s just you’ve assigned me so much work in the past two weeks that I’m busy working on everything else you asked, so I, uhh, don’t think I can.”

Instead, try, “Thank you so much for thinking of me for this, but I was planning to spend this week working on [name of other projects].”

This approach works for a couple of reasons. First, it’s flattering that your manager thought of you (after all, you want to be top of mind when new, exciting projects come along!). Second, if your boss knows this new task is more important, it invites him to say, “Let’s push those other projects to the backburner,” and make sure you’re on the same page as far as priorities go.

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