The Word You Should Say More At Work

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There is one little word I think you should be using more at work: “No.”

Yep. That’s right. I want you to hear you say “no” loud and proud.

That might sound contrary to what I stand for as a fearless Boss B-(you-know-what), but remember, I’m all about laser focus and doing less, better. So, by all means, say “yes” to projects at work, but only when it’s a heck yes. If it’s anything less, it’s a no.

We all want to be seen as these superhuman creatures who can handle any assignment we get. But the truth is, no matter how superhuman you are, you simply can’t do everything that comes your way—at least not well. Perhaps you also think that by biting off more than you can chew you’ll amass a ton of experience and contacts, even if the quality of your work suffers because you spread yourself too thin. But wouldn’t it be better to do both: produce a clear shining accomplishment while also getting some great experience? How? By going deep instead of wide. Here’s a cheat sheet on how to say no (without sounding like a jerk) to three people who might ask you to do extra stuff at work.

#1: Your Coworker

If you need to say no when your coworker asks you: “Hey, can you help me with this recruiting project?” You say…

“I would love to be helpful, but so-and-so has me on deadline, so I don’t have the bandwidth to make this the success it should be. When that project is done, I would love to find other ways we can collaborate!”

Here’s why you say this: having coworkers in your corner and collaborating together is a very important part of thriving at work. So tread carefully with this one because you’ll likely need their help at some point, too. If you really can’t give them the help they need without compromising your own commitments, then say no. But beware that you should only use this method if you are indeed really slammed. If the person asking you for help finds out you were lying, you could burn some important bridges—and they sure won’t want to help you down the road.

#2: Your Client

If you need to say no when your client asks you something like: “Are you able to attend this event?” You say…

“I am so flattered you thought of me for this event. I can’t make this one, but please keep the invitations coming!”

Here’s why this is your answer: clients are royalty in any business. They are your source of, well, money, so you want them to be happy. You may be worried that if you decline this ask, they will never ask you again. But what you should remember is that you are thinking about this ask a thousand times more than they are. In fact, it’s likely a throwaway invitation (sorry, ego, but it’s true), and they probably already have someone else lined up to go as a backup.

#3: Your Boss

If you need to say no to your boss when she asks: “Can you take on a new project for a third client we’re taking on?” You say…

“I’m not confident that I can take on another client while devoting the time and energy required for my other clients. I would love to revisit after the current projects with Clients 1 and 2 are wrapped up. In the meantime, I would be thrilled to learn more about the client and try to be as helpful as I can by brainstorming with you for the best strategy of success for Client 3’s project. Let’s set up a meeting to discuss, and I can also get you up to speed with where we are with Clients 1 and 2.”

Here’s why you say this: saying no to a superior is tough, there’s no doubt about it. But if you are really unable to take on something else without letting your current projects down, then you have to say no. Here it helps to remind yourself that you are doing both you and your boss a favor, because if you accept the project, you risk doing a mediocre job at all of them, which not only hurts the project but also affects your overall performance and reputation, and will likely come back and bite you in the tush during review or bonus time.

Say yes to no’s

Saying “no” the right way doesn’t mean that you are unwilling to go above and beyond. Rather, it shows that you value your time, the asker’s time, and the importance of the ask. It underscores that you are thoughtful and cautious about giving your work your all, and not spreading yourself too thin. Sometimes doing good work, means doing the right work—nothing more, nothing less.