How to Say "No" at Work and Still Get Ahead

Getting on your supervisor's good side and being a team player can open the door to better opportunities. Play your cards right and you could end up taking your boss's job one day.

As a top performer, you're an asset to the company. And as the higher-ups take notice of your ability, they may throw more assignments and projects your way.

This is good news, especially if you're looking to challenge yourself. But if you're at capacity and can barely keep up with your current work assignments, taking on new responsibilities might push you over the edge, or at the very least, impact the quality of your work. (See also: How to Be Happier and More Likeable at Work)

Moving up the corporate ladder doesn't suggest being a "Yes Man." But if you say "no," your boss may think that you're not a go-getter, right? Not necessarily.

Realistically speaking, there is only so much you can do in a 40-hour workweek. Therefore, it may be impossible to accept every assignment. The key, however, is knowing the right ways to say "no." (See also: How to Say "No" to Friends and Family)

1. Suggest Prioritizing Your Projects.

Just like you, your boss has a lot on his plate. And truthfully, he may not be fully aware of all your current assignments. If you're his main go-to guy or gal, he may feel comfortable assigning new projects or giving you additional responsibilities, especially if you always turn in stellar work. And for fear of being overlooked for future opportunities, you may grudgingly accept each assignment even if it adds stress to your workday. (See also: 20 Free Ways to Relieve Stress)

However, speaking with your boss or supervisor and prioritizing tasks is one way to get out of an assignment without jeopardizing any future advancement.

Say something like, "Actually, I'm currently working on such-and-such projects..." and then give a brief rundown of your current projects and assignments. "These assignments consume a great deal of my time and attention; however, if you feel that this project takes precedent, I'll gladly prioritize and pause my current projects until the completion of this one."

This approach demonstrates your ready attitude, yet acknowledges your limitations.

2. Give a Sound Explanation With Your "No"

Of course, pausing your current work to take on a new project may not be an option. And given the fact that there are only so many hours in the workday, you may feel that there's no way you'll be able to complete everything — even if you came in a little earlier and took a shorter lunch break. (See also: How to Save Time By Spending Time)

If you have to turn down an assignment because of time constraints, don't just say "no" and return to your work — explain yourself.

In all fairness, your boss is likely a reasonable human being, and if you've always given the job your all, this is no doubt evident, or else your boss wouldn't have approached you with a new opportunity. Therefore, he may understand your reason for saying no.

For example, "Thank you for the opportunity, but given other deadlines and my current assignments, I feel that my other work will suffer if I take on any new responsibilities. However, if anything changes, I will definitely let you know."

With this approach, you're saying "no" today, but leaving open the possibility of new responsibilities in the future. Plus, it's a friendly, professional way of reminding your boss that you're not a robot.

3. What Not to Say When Saying "No"

Remember, the goal is to say "no," but still get ahead at work. However, if you manage to say the wrong thing and successfully tick off your boss in the process, you might shoot yourself in the foot. Don't say:

"That assignment looks too hard; you might want to find someone else."

Maybe you actually feel that you don't have the necessary skills or knowledge to do a good job, but what your boss might hear is, "I'm happy where I'm at and don't really want to challenge myself."

Also don't say:

"That assignment isn't in my job description."

Maybe you're simply overwhelmed and feel that the assignment will affect the quality of your work, but what your boss might hear is, "I don't want to make myself available, I'm here to do my job, and nothing more."

At the end of the day, it's all in how you approach the situation. And it's safe to assume that many corporate heads have had to say a few "nos" throughout their careers. Saying no to certain projects and new tasks won't necessarily kill your chances of moving to a higher pay grade — it's how you say "no" that makes the difference.

How do you say "no" to the boss?

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Guest's picture

I am a manager (of lawyers) a relatively new lawyer (but one with sufficient experience) told me he was too busy (working on insignificant cases) to take advantage of co-chairing a rather important case with me. This guy is lazy and I will NEVER offer him another opportunity. His attitude sucks and the guy who hired him (and keeps him employed) shouldn't be in management at all. I'd fire him myself, if I was in a position to do so.