Yet requests to do extra can also create stress, anxiety, resentment and a sense that you alone are being burdened with extra responsibilities and tasks while others cruise along doing the bare minimum.

While accepting more responsibility or taking on extra duties can be a move toward being seen as a team player and as activities that will look good at promotion time, taking on too much because you don’t know how to say ‘no’ can have a negative effect on your wellbeing and career prospects.

Saying ‘yes’ when you should be saying ‘no’ can lead to burnout and set you up for failure when too much on your plate means nothing gets done very well.

While getting the balance between ‘yes’ and ‘no’ right might be tricky, there are ways to say ‘no’ without jeopardizing your career or your relationships at work.

Saying ‘no’ doesn’t come naturally to most of us.

We feel guilty, we don’t like to disappoint others, we feel mean or we feel fear about any potential consequences if we say ‘no’ to the wrong person.

Yet saying ‘no’ needn’t be about burning bridges or being impolite and is necessary to not only protect your personal wellbeing but your professional reputation as well. So in the spirit of being able to say ‘no’ well, here are some tips for learning to getting it right.

Think about it 

Even when ‘no’ is going to be the inevitable outcome, taking time to consider the request that has been made not only shows the person that has asked you that you have taken their request seriously, but it also gives you time to formulate a clear and reasoned response.

When giving your response make sure it is concise and to the point - there is no need for longwinded explanations that may only make you appear disingenuous. For example: “Sorry, but I’ve got several other extra projects on at the moment and I don’t think I’d be able to give it the attention it deserves.”

Say ‘no’ and ‘yes’

Sometimes it may be reasonable for you to say ‘no’ to the main request but ‘yes’ to a smaller aspect of what has been asked of you. For example: 'I can’t do X but I can ask around to see if anyone is in a position to help you', or 'I can’t do X but I can get those contact numbers for you'.  In this way you’re not taking on a significant amount of extra work but are offering some kind of assistance as a nice gesture.

Provide an alternative 

When saying ‘no’, consider alternatives that might help the person who is making the request. This might be suggesting another colleague who might be better placed and more willing to take on the extra work or dividing the project up among a group of people if that would be appropriate.

When we provide an alternative we are showing respect for that person's need for help without actually taking on that role ourselves.

Be firm

It’s often tempting to soften a ‘no’ so that it sounds more like a ‘maybe’ but if you leave the door even slightly open the other person will most likely push on through.

If now is not a good time but you might be able to help out in a week or two when your workload lessens let them know, but be firm on a timeline. For example: 'Sorry, I’ve got too much on right now but I’ll be freed up by the end of the month if that helps'.


While the above tips can help you say ‘no’ without causing offense, remember that saying ’yes’ when you should be saying ’no’ not only does a disservice to the asker and the project, but to yourself as well.

Keeping that in mind will help you to build your confidence when it comes to saying ‘no’ and practice does make perfect.

Experts agree that practising saying the word ‘no’ out loud helps you to say it when the time comes as does practicing articulating the reasons why you can’t take on extra work.

While the above will very often be respected by those asking, it is also important to understand that some people aren’t good at hearing ‘no’.

In this case you need to appreciate that their unwillingness is about them and not about you and that frustration or even panic about the project might be driving their response to your ‘no’.

In this situation it is best to keep your calm and your resolve and let them solve the problem themselves or take you up on your suggestions if you’ve made any.

Another possible scenario is that the situation changes from being a request to being a demand.

If you still know that you have too much on your plate to do the job well, it is perfectly reasonable to try to negotiate.

This might mean saying that in order for the work to be done well you’ll need extra time and resources or help from someone else.

For example: 'I already have a lot on but I could manage this if I had x amount time off class and/or the ability to use x resources.'

Saying ‘no’ isn’t easy but is sometimes a necessity for you and the project or task.

Making sure you are clear on why you can’t take it on and articulating these reasons clearly and confidently will go a long way toward making sure you aren’t jeopardizing your reputation or career.

If guilt is too much, remember to offer alternatives or a smaller role for yourself.