Ever been made an offer you can’t refuse – even though you’d really like to? Do you find you’re always the one peope will go to when they need a favour, because they know you’ll say yes? So often we say ‘Yes’ when what we actually want to say is ‘No’. At work, it’s usually because we want to avoid conflict, because we want to be liked, because the other person is more senior (or more scary), because we think we have to, or because we’re worried about the consequences of saying no. As a result though, we undervalue ourselves – people will continue to ask things of us, we end up overloaded and fail to achieve our own goals. So how can we say ‘No’ positively and assertively?

First it’s important to recognise when it’s appropriate to say no.  This could be:

          When the timescale is unreasonable

          When the work is not yours

          When the task has low priority

          When you lack the knowledge/skills/resources to do it properly

          When you feel under pressure

So don’t feel guilty about refusing a request (or even a demand) on your time. Simply follow these 3 easy steps…

1.     Start with a sensitive, empathetic statement that shows you understand the other person’s position.

2.     Then give a valid reason (not an excuse) for the ‘no’. Don’t make up something lame that could potentially be challenged – just be as honest as you can.

3.     Finish by offering to explore some alternatives, so you’re clearly showing that you’re willing to help, but only on terms that are reasonable to you.

So, for example, if someone asks you to undertake a task at short notice, try something along the lines of “I understand the rush but these forms I’m doing are top priority for the next 2 hours. Sue may be free at 4pm, and I’ll be free tomorrow morning.”

Or if someone asks you for a lift but it’s not convenient for you as you’re late already and it will take you out of your way, try “I’d like to help but I’m about 20 minutes late so I can’t take you home. If it helps I can drop you off at the bus stop/station.”

You don’t need to respond to every question or justify yourself, or even apologise. Stand your ground, stay calm, and repeat yourself if needed.

Eventually people will realise that, while you’ll do your best when you can, you’re not to be taken advantage of – so hopefully they’ll only ask when it’s really important, and you’ll only say yes when you know you can!