How to Say “NO” to Your Boss When Appropriate–5 strategies

One of the “rewards” of being a high performer is being asked to do more and more until you discover one day that it is just too much. You are working extra hours just to keep up. Your work and life are suffering and you don’t have time for your family and friends.

It doesn’t have to be this way. A key skill in managing your time (and your boss) is learning to say NO when appropriate. But, how do you say NO, especially to your boss, in a way that maintains the relationship and builds trust?

First, you need to know your commitments. In order to know when to say no, you need to know what’s on your plate. You should have a running list of all your current projects/assignments. Once you see this list of commitments, you can decide whether the new request fits into your schedule, and if it’s of high enough priority to add to your list.

The real secret to saying “NO” is to have a greater “YES” burning within you!

Next, when a request is made, take the time to listen and fully understand what is being asked and why. Then you can decide if the request fits into your schedule and your priorities.

Last, when appropriate, you need to say NO in a respectful way. Here are five strategies:

  • Negotiate a later date for completion – “I would be happy to do that task. With all of my other priorities I could complete it by this date.”
  • Ask how it fits into your current workload, then negotiate – “I would be happy to do that task. Would you help me see where this fits in with my other priorities?”
  • Suggest someone else who might be able to complete the task for you – “I don’t have time for this at the moment. You might check with Pat or Chris.”
  • Be polite, yet firm in saying “no” when “no” is your only option – “I’m sorry, I can’t do this right now.”
  • Pre-empt the request by keeping people informed regarding your workload and priorities.

Don’t let your work life get to the point where you feel burned out and ready to quit. Take responsibility for creating the work environment that keeps you engaged by learning to say “No” when appropriate.


“A ‘No’, uttered from deepest conviction is better and greater than a ‘Yes’, merely uttered to please, or what is worse, to avoid trouble.”

~ Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi


About the author:

John Hester is a senior consulting partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies.  You can read John’s posts on the second Thursday of every month.

12 thoughts on “How to Say “NO” to Your Boss When Appropriate–5 strategies

  1. Great reminder, John. Just as important as what you say is how you say it. Having these powerful ways to reset your bosses expectations about what is truly possible is a great tool.

  2. Pingback: Five Blogs – 15 October 2012 « 5blogs

  3. Pingback: How to say "No"!

  4. I once said to my boss ” which one of these projects you want me to stop to take on this new project you want done”.

  5. Pingback: Say No

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