Four Ways To Say No To Work Requests And Still Be A Team Player

by / March 8, 2016

The pace of work and the amount of work invariably ebbs and flows. There will be crunch times and late nights in most jobs. But what happens when you’re at your limit, and your boss still asks you to do more? You may not be comfortable declining work, lest you look like a slacker or a bad sport. But there are ways to say No to doing more and still be a team player. Here are four strategies for gracefully pushing back:

1. Let the boss prioritize.

Your boss isn’t trying to overwork you to death (if s/he is, that type of bully behavior needs its own column). For the otherwise reasonable boss who happens to ask too much this time, let him or her know what else you’re working on and what those deadlines are. Speak in a neutral voice – not a whiff of defensiveness or resentment:

I can do Request X by end of day today. I also have THIS due HERE, THAT due THERE, and YET MORE due THEREAFTER. What do you suggest?

S/he may not realize how much is on your plate and may decide to hand this to someone else or take something else away. You should keep a running tally of projects, deadlines, and status updates at the tip of your tongue anyway for whenever you run into a boss or other senior person and they ask innocuously, “So what are you working on?”

2. Offer a better alternative.

You can also suggest that the task be assigned to someone else, and you can still come off a hero if you offer a better alternative — someone whose skills are more suited to the task, someone who wants the work, someone who has been asking for a growth opportunity and this would be perfect.


I can do Request X by end of day. John is my PowerPoint go-to guy so he would also be good for this – OR – Linda has asked to be involved in this project so she would be good to loop in for this – OR – Mark has been asking to do more X. Can I manage him on this?

You should know everyone on your team in terms of their strengths and their interests. Don’t point to others unless you’re confident this is a win for them too.

Expression word no

3. Save everyone the work.

Are you sure Request X even needs to get done? Find an alternative where you can automate a solution (so no one has to do the work anymore) or where you can eliminate this step (if it’s part of a larger process and perhaps unnecessary) or where you can innovate something new that’s more desirable. For example, one operations whiz took a dreaded multi-page report and created a dashboard template that gave the same information but with far less prep time.

Keep in mind that this solution could mean you’re still doing the request now and doing additional work in the immediate term to figure out a way to automate, streamline or innovate. But you save yourself (and everyone else) from the same task in the future.

4. Trade your “no” for later.

You could say Yes to this for now and save your No for later. Instead of killing yourself to get everything done for the immediate timetable, push something to the future. Then use that future commitment to say No to something that comes up later (go back to strategy 1 for how to use current commitments to say No gracefully). By pushing work into a later time period, but not necessarily this request, you still modulate your work across a longer timetable. You may not be as busy later on, so additional request may never come, and you may never have to say No.

Whatever strategy you use to better manage your workload, be thoughtful and proactive about doing just that — manage your own workload. Don’t assume your boss will be mindful of how much you have to get done. Don’t assume your colleagues will pitch in to help. Don’t wait for someone else to come up with a more efficient and effective solution. Don’t just do everything right away rather than setting boundaries and spreading out your work so you can find the right balance for you.


Via By Caroline Ceniza-Levine  at Forbes

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