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That’s a “no”!

Business Spotlight - epaper ⋅ Ausgabe 9/2021 vom 25.08.2021



“You’re unlikely to make a good impression if you say no too quickly”

Consider what’s at stake before you say no to your boss. While it’s rarely a good strategy to say no to a reasonable request — or to one that could be good for your career — it’s also never a good idea to say yes if you’re already overworked. But saying no to your manager requires a high level of confidence if you want to pull it off well. Why is that?

Most of us have what psychologists call a harshness bias. This is when we believe that people will think badly of us if we don’t respond positively to a request. In reality, however, people tend to respect a no if it’s clearly justified.

To avoid taking on the wrong kind of work, or more work than you can realistically manage, it’s important to get the timing, the tone and the reasoning of your no right. Here, we provide you with useful language ...

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Saying no: try to stay positive
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... and techniques to help you get it right.

3. Voicing your concerns

If the answers to your questions confirm that you don’t have the time, skills or expertise to perform the task well, now is your chance to voice your concerns. Ideally, you should provide evidence that backs up your concerns in a way that shows you have a professional attitude to your work. You could use common idioms at first to show you are busy (“I have too much on my plate”), but you will also need to provide details of your workload.

4. Being firm

You don’t want to be pigeonholed as someone who is not willing to support the team, but you also don’t want to be seen as a pushover. So, if a request is completely outside your normal remit, be firm when you turn it down. If you feel uncomfortable saying no in a direct way, or prefer to keep the tone light, you can soften your response with “I’m afraid...”, as in “I’m afraid I can’t free up any time for this”. However, it’s not a good idea to dither too long or start your replies with “I don’t think...”. This makes you seem less determined. Your boss might then sense your hesitation and decide to play hardball with you.

5. Talking about your workload

Your manager may genuinely not realize how heavy your workload is. To help you stand your ground, get into the habit of allocating specific times in your calendar for work and personal commitments, and not just for meetings. That way, a quick glance at your schedule should tell you whether or not you have time for a new task. Moreover, this technique will help you to quickly list anything that can justify your no and help you stick to it.


What language do you need if you want to say no to your boss? Start a mind map of your workload and add the vocabulary that you will need to talk about it. Write down expressions you can use to say no with confidence.

6. Asking for support

If the request still isn’t going away, ask your boss for their views on how to deal with your full workload. Discuss whether there is anything you can delay or give to someone else. And if you feel you don’t have the necessary skills to complete the task, ask if you can work on it with someone who does.

7. Accepting yes

If you have presented your arguments well, you should be able to win over your boss. However, sometimes, you will just have to accept that you have to say yes. In this situation, make sure that you confirm what the priorities are and what you can give up or delay. Then try to focus on the advantage of having a boss who trusts you with more responsibilities.

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1. Taking your time

• Thank you for thinking of me.

• I appreciate your confidence in me.

• I’m honoured that you would consider me for this project.

2. Learning the facts

• What is the timeline for this?

• What exactly is involved?

• What would be my role and my responsibilities?

3. Voicing your concerns

• I have too much on my plate at the moment.

• It’s going to be impossible to give everything the attention I’d like to.

• This would require a significant amount of my time for the next month.

4. Being firm

• I’m afraid I can’t take on anything else right now.

• To be perfectly honest, my schedule is full.

• Thanks again for asking, but I should prioritize...

5. Talking about your workload

• I really need the time to deal with...

• Actually, you also asked me to work on...

• Most of my hours for the next few weeks have already been reserved for other projects.

6. Asking for support

Is there someone who could support me on this project / my other projects?

Can I put something on the back burner while I deal with this?

How do you think this can fit in with my other work commitments?

7. Accepting yes

So, we agree that I should prioritize...

As this is more urgent, we agree to postpone...

Thanks for agreeing to put my other work on hold.