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Acumen Connections » Blog » Saying No at Work Can Be a Good Thing: Here's How to Master It

Saying No at Work Can Be a Good Thing: Here’s How to Master It

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Why Saying No to Work Can Be Important

As an entrepreneur, “hard work” is your middle name and you have not gotten where you are by sitting around or acting lazy. You keep your nose to the grindstone and spend your whole day solving problems, assisting clients, jumping through hoops, supporting an entire team, acting as a jack of all trades, and covering when others cannot. Unlike others, you have the potential to accomplish anything you put your mind to because you know how to start a task, find solutions to obstacles that seem to arise almost hourly, and are able to see a project through completion. At some point you have had to wear many hats, and you are likely still having to do that; you have done sales, manufacturing, accounting, marketing, recruiting, and more. You have found success in business and entrepreneurship because you have the attitude and drive necessary to push yourself every day to do better.

Fortunately, since you’ve opened your company, you’ve seen growth and have had to hire at least a few others to help you with the business. Unfortunately, with that growth, you’ve found that there’s more work to do than ever. Previously, we have talked about time management, practicing mindfulness, and prioritizing work while meeting deadlines. Today, we will talk about a very important life lesson that pertains to all of these topics: knowing when to say no to more work. 

Why You Might Need to Say No

Saying no can be difficult, especially when you are an entrepreneur. You might not be a perfectionist, but you usually go the extra mile to ensure that your products are of good quality and that your team is keeping your customers and clients happy. You may actively enjoy helping others, but at some point, you may be taking on too many responsibilities, thus leaving your overall work to suffer. It is important to remember not to sacrifice quality over quantity when it comes to your work, and that sometimes you have to say “no” to taking on more tasks. In addition, taking care of your mental and physical health is incredibly important, and one aspect of that is not allowing yourself to become overwhelmed or overly stressed with the amount of work and responsibilities that you have.

Learning to say no to some things can be an incredibly difficult lesson for people, and some never truly learn how to say it at all. If you want to maintain your health, as well as the high quality of work that you produce, you need to learn this valuable lesson. At some point a time will come where you will be too inundated with work and it will hinder your ability to accomplish almost any of your responsibilities.

Learning How to Say It

We have previously provided fantastic interview questions to help you hire only the best for your team, and we have mentioned how to make sure you hire a diverse team that works well together. You have already done the legwork of hiring a great team, and you are confident in their abilities to do their job. If you trust your team to do their work, then at some point you need to trust them enough to let them handle some of your work too. If you do not have the bandwidth to add one more project to your schedule, but you notice that others are open to and wanting to take on more responsibility, then you should let them do that. The truth is that there are only 24 hours in a day, and you should probably spend at least a handful of them getting sleep or eating food. You may not be able to accomplish everything you set out to do every day, and that is okay.

Sometimes the act of saying no is difficult because we do not want to let others down, appear lazy, or seem like we do not care or are not a team player. “No” should not be a scary word, but if you are uncomfortable with saying it in the workplace, here are some alternatives:

illustration of person with arms crossed saying no in different ways

With these responses, it tells others that you are not rudely saying no, but rather, that you simply do not have the time/ability/resources to take on another project at present or in the very near future. Sometimes, the other person you are talking to may have advice or a solution for something you had not considered. They may have guidance on how they save time on specific administrative tasks, they may have the ability to help you on one project in exchange for your help on this project, or they may realize they can push back their timeline for this assignment.

When turning down work, do not respond with self-deprecation, because it may only upset the person who asked you for help if they think you are not taking their request seriously. Do not apologize either. You are not being malicious, and it is not your fault you do not have the ability to take on a new task. When you say no to taking on new work, just be sure to stick with the facts. We recommend that you talk to them in person to avoid an uncomfortable and confusing email conversation.

If you are worried about assigning an entire project to a single person and overwhelming them in the process, then you should just assign the project to multiple people. Part of being a boss is knowing when and how to delegate tasks and responsibilities, which includes knowing how to divide up a task between multiple employees in such a way that allows each person to use their strengths. As we have mentioned previously, a diverse team will work well in such a way where one person’s weakness is another person’s strength, and this is one of those instances where this office dynamic can be beneficial because the team will be able to work together and bring what they each do best to the project.

It is not a good idea to turn down every opportunity, task, and request that comes your way while at work, but sometimes it is important to say no to taking on more responsibilities for today or even this week. Hopefully with this guide, the next time that you are asked to take on way more work than you can handle, you will (1) understand it is sometimes impossible to accomplish everything you may want to do and (2) know how to say “no” and feel comfortable in doing so.

Renee McBride

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“A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one,” is my favorite quote. I’ve been working since high school mostly with small, growing businesses across various industries. I’ve had to wear many hats for each role. In that time, I’ve learned that problem-solving and helping pass on that information to others is what drives me. Today, I’m the Digital Marketing Manager at Acumen Connections.

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