The Insider’s Guide to Healthy Hawaii: Just Say No

Find your balance in the office by learning how to decline assignments with tact.

Medically reviewed in February 2021

Work-life balance can be hard to master. Balancing your time around work and life outside of the office sounds simple enough, but it can be tough when your boss keeps piling on tasks and deadlines are looming. Let’s face it, being stressed isn’t attractive or healthy. Sometimes you just have to say “No.” No to that new project you’ve been asked to take on. No to leading a company-wide campaign. And no to attending a one-hour meeting at 4 p.m. the day a project is due. But how do you say no without being labeled “not a team player?”

Saying no is a skill that anyone can develop with practice. Here are a few pointers you can use in the workplace:

Hold the eager “Yes!”
Don’t be too eager to blurt out “Yes!” before knowing what’s expected of you. Give your boss or co-worker a chance to make their request and listen with an open mind. You haven’t agreed to anything yet, so listen without judgment. Take a moment to process what they’re asking of you and figure out if you can do it.

Be open and honest.
If you realize that you can’t devote the time and energy needed to complete your boss’s request, don’t beat around the bush. Be honest and direct. Open communication is key to building and maintaining good relationships. Your boss may not be aware of everything on your plate, so explain that you’re declining because you don’t want the quality of your work to suffer.

Prioritize and negotiate.
Instead of responding with a flat-out “No,” offer an alternative. Maybe something has to give and you can put another project on the back burner while you take on this new one. Ask your boss to help you prioritize your work in order of importance. You may realize that while it’s impossible to tackle the request on your own, you can contribute on a smaller scale.

Give a neutral “No.”
A neutral “No” is clear, concise and respectful. It’s not harsh, reluctant or sugar-coated. Your decision to say “No” isn’t personal. The natural response to hearing “No” usually isn’t positive. When you can anticipate this, it’s much easier to stick with your gut and avoid giving false hope.

For many, saying no requires us to step out of our comfort zone. But if you’re saying no for the right reasons and with discretion, then go ahead—say “Yes” to no.

This content originally appeared on Island Scene.

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