Important aspects of time management and assertiveness which many people find very difficult to do, is to simply say ‘no’ to unreasonable requests and demands on their time.

We don’t have to meet the expectations of everyone.

When is the request unreasonable? When you know it is going to impact negatively on you and others, bite into already stretched schedules and compromise carefully planned priority lists.

Not being able to say ‘no’, is likely to lead to unproductive, overburdened and stressed employees.

Reasons people can’t say ‘no’, include always wanting to please others, trying to re-affirm your own value, not letting yourself and others down and avoiding feelings of guilt and possible confrontation.

Yet there are times when you can and should say ‘no’ to requests and demands.

How does one say ‘no’?

  • Say a simple ‘no’, politely and firmly. Lengthy justification makes you lose control of the situation.
  • Keep your reply short and to the point. “No, it’s not possible, I’m afraid.” or “I am not taking on any new responsibilities now”. Believing in your decision will reduce feelings of guilt.
  • Start your reply with ‘no’ and use accompanying nonverbal cues, such as shaking your head firmly and maintaining eye contact. Averting your eyes will give the impression that you feel guilty.
  • If you struggle to say ‘no’, ask for time to think it over, become resolute and then say ‘no’. Get it clear in your mind as to why you are saying ‘no’, but it is not necessary to justify your reasons to the other person.
  • Don’t smile as this may give a message that you are not sure of your position on the matter
  • Don’t remain seated when someone asks you to do something you don’t want to do. Stand, feet firmly planted on the ground and keep eye contact at eye level when you refuse.
  • Don’t appear to be interested by nodding or by asking questions.
  • Interrupt politely but firmly not allowing the person to get to the end of their request. “I can’t give my attention to any more projects.”
  • If you have an idea that someone is about to request something from you, let them know that you will not consider taking on extra responsibilities.
  • The tone you use, will have a direct impact on how effectively you achieve your outcome of declining the request. Firm and polite is the key.
  • “I’m not sure I will be able to’, will not achieve the outcome you want. It sends the message that you are not convinced of your inability to take on the task.
  • It’s best to say ‘no’ and not raise expectations, than agreeing and finding out later that you are not able to meet the expectations. “I will unfortunately not be able to assist at this time.’ or “I would rather say ‘no’ now than let you down later when it will be difficult to find someone else.”
  • Use the ‘broken record’ technique and keep repeating your original statement firmly. “As I indicated, it is not possible for me to assist at this time.’

If you don’t have time to do something, say so and try your best not to feel guilty about it. A colleague who tries to get you to do a project, and knows you will probably agree to do it, e.g. completing a tender, will keep coming back with requests.

Don’t change your mind. Let your ‘no’ be ‘no’.

When you can’t avoid saying ‘yes’

  • If you can’t avoid saying ‘yes’, set realistic time schedules for the completion of the task, e.g. “I will assist, but I would need 3 weeks.” Trying to meet impossible deadlines with an already stretched schedule, will be counter-productive to all concerned.
  • Make sure you fully understand what is being asked and how much time it is likely to take, before you agree to it.
  • Ask yourself. Do I really want to do this? If not, why not? If I decide to do it, how will it impact on me and others?
  • Check your list of priorities. Discuss this with your superior when asked to do a new urgent task. Together, set a realistic timeframe for the new task and others on your existing list of priorities.

Saying ‘no’ saves time and reduces stress levels by helping you to balance your work and life and is ultimately in everyone’s best interest.