Practicing Assertiveness at Work: Learning How to Say ‘No’

Reviewed Mar 27, 2017

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Summary

  • Create a positive context.
  • Explain your reason in simple terms.
  • Suggest a compromise or alternative.
     

Ron is a team player. Everyone in his department likes him because he always pitches in, taking on extra work when there’s a crisis, or if a co-worker is swamped, sick or on vacation. He has a reputation for never saying “no.”

What his co-workers don’t know is that Ron feels overworked and unappreciated. People automatically assume he’ll always go the extra mile. They never ask him about his workload or if he has personal plans after hours. And Ron doesn’t say “no” when co-workers ask for help because he’s afraid they’ll get angry.

Sound familiar? As the workplace becomes more collaborative and departments become more interdependent, employees find they’re often faced with requests for help from co-workers. While everyone wants a harmonious atmosphere at work, it’s not worth sacrificing your performance or your personal life to continually support others. When you’re on deadline, you just put in a month of overtime to complete a difficult project or you need to get to your daughter’s dance recital, there are ways to say “no” to co-workers and still keep the peace.

Put it in context

Don’t run the risk of alienating a co-worker by responding to a request for help with a curt “no.” That’s too blunt and may cause long-lasting friction in your work group. It’s better to create a positive context in which you’ll be able to say “no” successfully. If you’ve already established yourself as a team player, you’ll face less resistance from co-workers on the occasions when you have to decline.

Tuck your negative response between a sympathetic phrase such as “I wish I could help you …” or “Normally, I’d be glad to help you …” and a constructive suggestion or compromise. Explain in simple terms the reason you must decline. Keep it brief and stick to the facts. Don’t use it as an opportunity to complain about how busy you are.

Suggest a compromise

If you say something like “My supervisor just gave me a rush project, and I have to put everything aside until it’s done” or “I have to leave by 5 today,” it shows that you’re busy too. If you can also suggest a way around the problem, your co-worker will see that you’re trying to help.

Phrases such as the following show co-workers there may be another way to solve their problem:

  • “Can we talk about this on Wednesday? By then I should be done with the boss’ project.”
  • “Have you thought about bringing in a freelancer to help you through this crunch?” 
  • “Tim’s really the expert on market research. Have you talked to him?”

Patti Breitman and Connie Hatch, the authors of How to Say No Without Feeling Guilty, believe that “Knowing how to say ‘no’ on the job can make a world of difference in your quality of life. It helps keep the day-to-day stresses under control. But more important, setting reasonable limits on your hours and workload gives you more opportunities to carve out a full, satisfying life beyond work.”

It’s as easy as 1-2-3

The next time a co-worker asks for help and you need to turn him down, here are 3 simple steps to follow:

  • Express your overall desire to help: “Normally, I’d be happy to take that on …”
  • Explain in simple terms why you can’t help: “Because of other deadlines, I won’t be able to get you those figures until next week.”
  • Suggest another way to solve the problem: Can we talk about it tomorrow? By then I should be able to give you the time you need.”

It’s important to keep a work/life balance to avoid feeling overwhelmed or resentful in the workplace. Practicing ways to be assertive by using the examples above not only respects your own needs, but also the needs of others.

Resources

How to Have That Difficult Conversation You've Been Avoiding by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. Zondervan 2006. 

The Book of No: 250 Ways to Say It—and Mean It—and Stop People-Pleasing Forever by Susan Newman, Ph.D. The McGraw Hill Companies, 2005.

By Rosalyn Kulick

Summary

  • Create a positive context.
  • Explain your reason in simple terms.
  • Suggest a compromise or alternative.
     

Ron is a team player. Everyone in his department likes him because he always pitches in, taking on extra work when there’s a crisis, or if a co-worker is swamped, sick or on vacation. He has a reputation for never saying “no.”

What his co-workers don’t know is that Ron feels overworked and unappreciated. People automatically assume he’ll always go the extra mile. They never ask him about his workload or if he has personal plans after hours. And Ron doesn’t say “no” when co-workers ask for help because he’s afraid they’ll get angry.

Sound familiar? As the workplace becomes more collaborative and departments become more interdependent, employees find they’re often faced with requests for help from co-workers. While everyone wants a harmonious atmosphere at work, it’s not worth sacrificing your performance or your personal life to continually support others. When you’re on deadline, you just put in a month of overtime to complete a difficult project or you need to get to your daughter’s dance recital, there are ways to say “no” to co-workers and still keep the peace.

Put it in context

Don’t run the risk of alienating a co-worker by responding to a request for help with a curt “no.” That’s too blunt and may cause long-lasting friction in your work group. It’s better to create a positive context in which you’ll be able to say “no” successfully. If you’ve already established yourself as a team player, you’ll face less resistance from co-workers on the occasions when you have to decline.

Tuck your negative response between a sympathetic phrase such as “I wish I could help you …” or “Normally, I’d be glad to help you …” and a constructive suggestion or compromise. Explain in simple terms the reason you must decline. Keep it brief and stick to the facts. Don’t use it as an opportunity to complain about how busy you are.

Suggest a compromise

If you say something like “My supervisor just gave me a rush project, and I have to put everything aside until it’s done” or “I have to leave by 5 today,” it shows that you’re busy too. If you can also suggest a way around the problem, your co-worker will see that you’re trying to help.

Phrases such as the following show co-workers there may be another way to solve their problem:

  • “Can we talk about this on Wednesday? By then I should be done with the boss’ project.”
  • “Have you thought about bringing in a freelancer to help you through this crunch?” 
  • “Tim’s really the expert on market research. Have you talked to him?”

Patti Breitman and Connie Hatch, the authors of How to Say No Without Feeling Guilty, believe that “Knowing how to say ‘no’ on the job can make a world of difference in your quality of life. It helps keep the day-to-day stresses under control. But more important, setting reasonable limits on your hours and workload gives you more opportunities to carve out a full, satisfying life beyond work.”

It’s as easy as 1-2-3

The next time a co-worker asks for help and you need to turn him down, here are 3 simple steps to follow:

  • Express your overall desire to help: “Normally, I’d be happy to take that on …”
  • Explain in simple terms why you can’t help: “Because of other deadlines, I won’t be able to get you those figures until next week.”
  • Suggest another way to solve the problem: Can we talk about it tomorrow? By then I should be able to give you the time you need.”

It’s important to keep a work/life balance to avoid feeling overwhelmed or resentful in the workplace. Practicing ways to be assertive by using the examples above not only respects your own needs, but also the needs of others.

Resources

How to Have That Difficult Conversation You've Been Avoiding by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. Zondervan 2006. 

The Book of No: 250 Ways to Say It—and Mean It—and Stop People-Pleasing Forever by Susan Newman, Ph.D. The McGraw Hill Companies, 2005.

By Rosalyn Kulick

Summary

  • Create a positive context.
  • Explain your reason in simple terms.
  • Suggest a compromise or alternative.
     

Ron is a team player. Everyone in his department likes him because he always pitches in, taking on extra work when there’s a crisis, or if a co-worker is swamped, sick or on vacation. He has a reputation for never saying “no.”

What his co-workers don’t know is that Ron feels overworked and unappreciated. People automatically assume he’ll always go the extra mile. They never ask him about his workload or if he has personal plans after hours. And Ron doesn’t say “no” when co-workers ask for help because he’s afraid they’ll get angry.

Sound familiar? As the workplace becomes more collaborative and departments become more interdependent, employees find they’re often faced with requests for help from co-workers. While everyone wants a harmonious atmosphere at work, it’s not worth sacrificing your performance or your personal life to continually support others. When you’re on deadline, you just put in a month of overtime to complete a difficult project or you need to get to your daughter’s dance recital, there are ways to say “no” to co-workers and still keep the peace.

Put it in context

Don’t run the risk of alienating a co-worker by responding to a request for help with a curt “no.” That’s too blunt and may cause long-lasting friction in your work group. It’s better to create a positive context in which you’ll be able to say “no” successfully. If you’ve already established yourself as a team player, you’ll face less resistance from co-workers on the occasions when you have to decline.

Tuck your negative response between a sympathetic phrase such as “I wish I could help you …” or “Normally, I’d be glad to help you …” and a constructive suggestion or compromise. Explain in simple terms the reason you must decline. Keep it brief and stick to the facts. Don’t use it as an opportunity to complain about how busy you are.

Suggest a compromise

If you say something like “My supervisor just gave me a rush project, and I have to put everything aside until it’s done” or “I have to leave by 5 today,” it shows that you’re busy too. If you can also suggest a way around the problem, your co-worker will see that you’re trying to help.

Phrases such as the following show co-workers there may be another way to solve their problem:

  • “Can we talk about this on Wednesday? By then I should be done with the boss’ project.”
  • “Have you thought about bringing in a freelancer to help you through this crunch?” 
  • “Tim’s really the expert on market research. Have you talked to him?”

Patti Breitman and Connie Hatch, the authors of How to Say No Without Feeling Guilty, believe that “Knowing how to say ‘no’ on the job can make a world of difference in your quality of life. It helps keep the day-to-day stresses under control. But more important, setting reasonable limits on your hours and workload gives you more opportunities to carve out a full, satisfying life beyond work.”

It’s as easy as 1-2-3

The next time a co-worker asks for help and you need to turn him down, here are 3 simple steps to follow:

  • Express your overall desire to help: “Normally, I’d be happy to take that on …”
  • Explain in simple terms why you can’t help: “Because of other deadlines, I won’t be able to get you those figures until next week.”
  • Suggest another way to solve the problem: Can we talk about it tomorrow? By then I should be able to give you the time you need.”

It’s important to keep a work/life balance to avoid feeling overwhelmed or resentful in the workplace. Practicing ways to be assertive by using the examples above not only respects your own needs, but also the needs of others.

Resources

How to Have That Difficult Conversation You've Been Avoiding by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. Zondervan 2006. 

The Book of No: 250 Ways to Say It—and Mean It—and Stop People-Pleasing Forever by Susan Newman, Ph.D. The McGraw Hill Companies, 2005.

By Rosalyn Kulick

The information provided on the Achieve Solutions site, including, but not limited to, articles, quizzes and other general information, is for informational purposes only and should not be treated as behavioral health care or management advice. Please direct questions regarding the operation of the Achieve Solutions site to Web Feedback. If you have questions related to workplace issues, please consider contacting your human resources department. ©2017 Beacon Health Options, Inc.

 

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