Saying no to a request can be difficult, especially if the person making the request is your boss. Even if you try your best to do everything your boss asks you to, there are times when you can't and have to say no. Think about your reasons and understand what you want to say before meeting your boss. Instead of saying "no" outright, try to come up with positive alternative suggestions.
Part 1 of 3: Preparing Responses
Step 1. Write a list of reasons why you can't make a request
If your boss asks you to take on additional work or take on an assignment when you don't have time or the task is outside your job description, it's helpful to list reasons why you should say no to the task. Think about the problem calmly and rationally and list the reasons. These notes will help you prepare a response to your boss.
- There are simple reasons why you can't do a task, such as a commitment to taking care of your kids or planning a vacation.
- If you're not sure if the assignment is right for you, double-check your job description.
- If you already have a heavy workload and can't accept another job, you need to think carefully about how to deal with this.
Step 2. Analyze your work priorities
If your work schedule is a problem and you're not sure you can take on additional assignments, try to analyze your priorities. Consider a new assignment with another and evaluate whether you can shift the existing job. Just saying "I don't have time" can make your boss question your effectiveness and efficiency, so if time is a problem, you need to show that you can prioritize tasks and complete them on time.
- Make a to-do list and sort it by priority and deadline.
- Make an estimate of how long each task will take and see if there's a chance you'll be able to work on a new one.
- Create neat and clear documents that can be used when talking to superiors.
- This is a way of "showing" your boss that you can't do what you're asked to, and not just "saying."
Step 3. Put yourself in the shoes of the boss
Before talking to your boss, it's important that you try to put yourself in his shoes and understand him and the company's priorities. Understanding your boss's motivation will help you formulate a better response. If you're not performing a specific task because it's likely to cost the company's revenue significantly, you need a very persuasive argument and an alternative so the company doesn't lose its revenue.
- If you just want to reschedule a meeting because of a previous commitment, think about how this rescheduling will impact your boss.
- Trying to put yourself in his shoes will help you anticipate how your boss will respond to you.
Step 4. Think of the language to use
Using the right tone of voice and language to say no without saying no is important. Remember, it's important to always use neutral language and avoid changing the situation. It's not about you or your boss, or the relationship you have, whether it's a good relationship or a bad relationship. Always point to the company and how to achieve the best results for the business.
- Say something neutral and objective like, "If I do this assignment, I won't have time to finish this week's main report."
- Avoid subjective and personal responses. Don't say "I can't do it, it's too much work for me".
Part 2 of 3: Talking to the Boss
Step 1. Find the right time for the boss
Before talking to your boss, you need to find the right time for him or her. You certainly don't want to see him at a stressful or busy time. You may have a good idea of how he works, but check his daily schedule on the computer if possible. You should ask if he has free time because you want to discuss something, depending on the culture and customs in your office.
- Have a private conversation if your work situation allows you to talk alone with your boss.
- Pay attention to the work pressure and work style of your boss. If he is someone who likes to be active in the morning, try to talk to him before lunch.
- If you know he always comes first, you can come early one morning to see him before the other employees arrive.
Step 2. Speak clearly and concisely
When you talk to your boss, it's important to get your point across quickly and don't avoid trouble. You need to make sure to get your point across in a clear and concise manner. Don't go round and round about it because your boss will think you're wasting your time and you'll lose the boss's sympathy.
- Avoid saying "yes, but…" because the boss may just hear "yes" and think you can do the job, if you can manage your time better.
- Instead of using negative words like "but," try using more positive words.
- For example, instead of saying “I know you asked me to do this report, but I have a lot of other work to do”, try saying something like “I have an idea to reorganize the workload on this project”.
Step 3. Describe your condition
It is very important that you explain the reasons clearly and effectively. If you can't make a solid argument, your boss probably doesn't understand why you can't do the job. For example, if you are asked to do something outside of your job description, you should explain this and be prepared to explain your job description, if necessary. Don't immediately reveal your job description, but be prepared to explain it.
- If timing is a problem, you need a real and undeniable reason why you can't do the task at hand.
- Reveal other work that is being done and is a priority. Say something like, “I have a deadline to complete my Spring report next week, so this task could be a drag.”
- Try to emphasize that if your boss reassigns the task to someone else, it will benefit that person and the company by emphasizing that the work you are doing is more important.
- Explain your situation clearly and directly, but never in a confrontational or emotional way.
Step 4. Don't leave it too long
If you find out right away that you can't do a certain task or that it's not right for you, don't wait too long to schedule a conversation with your boss. If you let it, it's more difficult to reorganize the work that still needs to be done on time. If you wait until the last minute, it's almost impossible to meet the deadline. Your boss will not sympathize with you.
Part 3 of 3: Offering Positive Alternative Proposals
Step 1. Propose to realign your priorities
When you talk to your boss, it's important not to say "no" directly if you can avoid it. Instead, try to find ways to propose positive alternatives that don't require you to do a task you feel you can't do. A good way to do this is to propose to your boss to help you rearrange your priorities. By doing this, you will show your boss that you want to work as productively as possible, and it will be clear that the workload is not constant.
- Take notes of your outstanding work and how long it took you to complete each task to prove you thought it through.
- Asking the boss by saying “Can you help me rearrange my priorities?” will show that you want to involve him in managing your work.
- This will show that you value their opinion and seek help to work more efficiently.
Step 2. Recommend a colleague
Another way to suggest positive alternatives to simply saying no is to recommend a coworker who could take on additional work. Doing this will show that you've thought about the task and who is best suited for it. Your boss will be impressed that you've thought about him and the company's need to get the job done and not worrying about overwork.
- Showing that you have good judgment and prioritizing the needs of the company will make it easier for your boss to trust your judgment next time.
- It will also show that you understand what's going on in the office and are interested in the development of your co-workers.
Step 3. Propose a new work arrangement
If you're being given a lot of work to complete within the agreed upon hours, this could be an opportunity to talk to your boss about making new work arrangements. For example, if you have to make long commuting to work that reduces your productivity, you could suggest working from home one day a week thereby cutting commuting time.
- If you think a more flexible work pattern will make it easier for you to adapt to the demands of the workplace, don't be afraid to bring this up.
- Always think about the culture in your workplace and whether working more flexibly is a viable idea.
- Think through all proposals before submitting them. Don't propose ideas that aren't completely clear.
- If your boss asks you to do something illegal, you have the right to say no. Contact the authorities.
- Be calm and speak in a normal tone of voice.