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How to Say ‘No’ At Work Like a Professional

In the workplace, the reward for work well done is often more work, more difficult work, more time-consuming work…you get the idea. However, everybody reaches their own threshold of work stress eventually. And, while exploding in a violent rage might be kind of fun, it’s not very professional. Let’s look at some good ways to combat work stress, specifically by learning to say “no” in a professional way.

The key to declining projects at work is to offer a solution to the request. Instead of saying “no” outright, paint a realistic picture of the commitments you already have. Then, suggest an alternative to your doing the project “right now.”

Lawyer Beth Cronin remembers how she would decline projects and tasks as a new member of her firm. However, she “never once told a partner she was too busy to do a project.” Instead of brushing off a project, it is important to thoughtfully explain that your workload will not allow you to devote the proper amount of time to the new task. Are you basically saying “I’m too busy?” Totally. However, like most things we say in the office, it’s important to be professional and tactful.

If work stress is getting to you, and your supervisor approaches you about an additional project, try saying something like this: “I’d love to help you with that. However, I already committed to X project, which needs to be in by Tuesday. When do you need this project finished?” By responding in this way, you show your willingness to be a team player and a hard worker. You also give your supervisor the opportunity to rethink both the deadline for the project and assigning it to you.

Committing to quality work is every bit as important as taking on a ton of projects. Cronin points out that committing to a project, but not completing it satisfactorily and on time, can damage your professional reputation. People will start to doubt your work and your skills. While this might lead to less work stress, it’s probably not in the way that you want.

Saying “no” can also help with career goals as you work your way up the professional ladder. Passing up projects that interest you less leaves room for putting more time and effort into projects that are more important to you.

How do you avoid work stress by saying “no”? Share with us in the comments section below!

IMAGE: Courtesy of Flickr by marc falardeau

Kristin Anderson

Kristin has a B.A. in English from the University of Iowa, with an emphasis in creative writing. In her free time she enjoys long walks, kitchen adventures, and making puns.