Call Shari 303-863-0948 or Email Us

Contact us for virtual speaking and training!

How to Say No at Work – Good Business Communication

How many times do you walk by something in your house or office and think, “I have to clean that up?” Or get in your car and think, “I really need to wash this thing.” Every day we put up with things that drain our energy and attention, but we often do nothing.

What you’re tolerating may be small –a disorganized drawer or desk. But it may also be bigger –an unsatisfying relationship, a job you’ve outgrown, or a policy with which you disagree.

I took a time management class years ago and the trainer helped us organize our Word files so things were easier to find. She asked the question, “What are you tolerating?” I thought it was a funny question in relation to my laptop’s hard drive. But after my files were organized and I could access things without searching for 20 minutes, I realized how much time I’d been wasting and what I was indeed tolerating.

What frustrates you, but you’re so used to it, you no longer even notice? Perhaps you’re tired of responding to emails late at night or on the weekends? Or frustrated by people who don’t keep their word? We train people to treat us as they treat us.

Here a few suggestions for how to say no at work:

Start cleaning up the small things that make you cringe each time you look at them. Perhaps start with your desk or a drawer you’re afraid to open. Then consider when you’ve said yes, when you meant no. These situations are harder than cleaning out a drawer because they involve other people.

If you’ve agreed to something you don’t want to do, you can often renegotiate. Saying no at work could sound something like this, “I said I really wanted to lead X project and realized that I don’t have the time to do the project justice. I think I need to replace myself. I’m sorry to suggest a change so late in the game. I shouldn’t have offered to take it on in the first place. It was too ambitious. Who do you think would be a good fit?” Retracting yourself is better than doing a poor job.

Or, “I realized I said I’d plan our next family reunion. I’d love to do it and don’t feel I have the time to do the event justice. Who do you think would take it on?”

If you’ve committed to something you really don’t want to do, it will likely show. You’ll resent it and might not do the best job. Both of which are bad for your relationships and reputation. So start speaking up and saying no at work. And if that feels too big, go wash your car. You’ve got to start somewhere.

Seven years ago today I left my corporate job and started what’s now Candid Culture. Thank you for your support and for working towards having a more candid workplace. Please enjoy 20% off all of our resources through Friday May 16th. Use code: 7YEARSOFCANDOR.


Shari Harley is the founder and President of Candid Culture, a Denver-based training firm that is bringing candor back to the workplace, making it easier to give feedback at work. Shari is the author of the business communication book How to Say Anything to Anyone: A Guide to Building Business Relationships that Really Work. She is a keynote speaker at conferences and does training throughout the U.S. Learn more about Shari Harley and Candid Culture’s training programs at

    Find more about me on:
  • facebook
  • linkedin
  • twitter
  • youtube

Tags: , , ,

Leave a Reply

Sign Up

Career tips
you won't get
elsewhere. Sign up
to get a free
tip card.