The Right Way to Say ‘No’ to Your Boss

September 8, 2016

Are you comfortable saying, “no” to your boss?  It’s important to be a team player, however if your boss continuously piles new projects on your plate, inevitably you will have to delay other work or worse yet, not complete the request at all—which will reflect poorly on you.


The ability to say “no” is a skill many employees need, but few foster. Following these three steps will spare you from wasted time and potential pain.

Hear your boss out.  Dale Carnegie’s 13th Human Relations principle is,‘Begin in a friendly way.’  The first step to saying “no” without actually saying it is to validate the request.  An affirmation such as, “I understand why you this is a high priority,” shows that you are listening without actually accepting the request—yet.  There could be someone to whom you can delegate the task or perhaps accepting the request may enable you to assign something else on your plate to someone else to allow you time to complete the new request.  Consider all of the possibilities before you immediately push-back.

Dig deep for the details.   Dale Carnegie’s 17th principle is, ‘Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view.’  Your boss needs help, otherwise the request would not have been made.  Perhaps the requested task is part of an overall company high-visibility project that you may actually feel honored to work on.  Before you become flustered, ask clarifying questions to understand the timing and level of detail so you can ascertain exactly how much time the task will take and if there is anyone to whom you can delegate all or a portion of the task. 

The answers to these questions serve as inputs to your response.  For example, you may need to politely push back by asking for more time to complete the request or to request for help with one of your other responsibilities. By understanding your boss’s perspective, you’ll be able to confidently frame your response, even if it’s solely to ask for the afternoon to think about it.  Unless the request is super urgent, your boss will most likely grant you time to evaluate.

Propose a viable solution.  If you are leaning towards, “no,” develop a list of possible solutions to the challenge. There may be other team members who desire to grow their careers that would jump at the chance to work on the project.  There could be an opportunity to postpone the request based on information to which you may be privy, but your boss is not.  Maybe someone on your team has performed a similar task in the past and could complete it in half of the time that you would.  List your options, ferret out the details and conclude which one or two options are the best recommendation to make to your boss.  Your proposed solution will show that you have thoroughly and respectfully considered your boss’s request, and that you seek a win-win solution without saying, “NO.”

Image: Pixabay


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