Book a call

How to (Gracefully) Say No

boundaries leadership saying no setting boundaries Nov 08, 2022

Many of us are guilty of not knowing how to say no and so we often get ourselves in a bit of trouble because of it. We can get overcommitted which causes our work to bleed into our personal time which can set up a deficit in work-life balance. Today we are going to look at how to learn to say no and why we should say no with confidence.

Let’s start with setting boundaries. There are many variations of boundaries so for the purposes of our discussion we will discuss the boundaries needed to be able to say no in the workplace. So let’s explore a few ways that we can learn to set boundaries.

Of course, your job requirements and expectations are the boundaries that we don’t often talk about and yet if you have clear expectations and objectives, it is much easier to further establish boundaries at work. If it is clear who you report to, who will set those expectations and priorities, and who will hold you accountable, then you will then be able to establish boundaries with much more confidence.

First, make sure you ask people not to call after certain hours. This may seem like a small thing but if you work with people that are workaholics, they may think nothing of calling you at all hours. No matter whether you have a family or not, you still should have time away from work. A phone call or text is sometimes necessary if there is an emergency, but it should not be the general rule. So let people know that you will only respond in emergencies after a certain time.

Secondly, set specific times during the day that you check email and let others know. This is a very important habit or practice to get into. If you have your email client open during meetings it is twice as likely that you will get distracted by emails. We are NOT good a multi-tasking no matter what you might think. The brain cannot focus on more than one thing at a time. If you are reading and/or replying to email during a meeting, two things are happening. One, you are not fully present in the meeting, so you miss parts of what is being said. Second, you send a clear message to the organizer of the meeting that it is just not the important to you.

Third, learn to manage your calendar in such a way that you control the meetings that you attend and that you have time to prepare properly for them. This is a really big deal and one that many people ignore. If you receive a meeting invite without an agenda or a topic that lets you know what the meeting is about, you should ask for clarification before accepting the invite. This is perfectly reasonable, and it ensures that your calendar only has meetings that you will be able to contribute to or benefit from. Sometimes people get lazy and just invite everyone that may remotely be impacted because they aren’t sure exactly who should attend. It is perfectly fine to decline these meetings. My point is that you are in charge of what meetings you should attend for the most part, so be smart about what you allow to go on your calendar. This is a boundary that you need to strengthen right away!

Fourth, when being asked to take on more projects when your plate if very full already, you need to make sure that reset your priorities. Ask your manager to help you reprioritize the projects you already have in order to take this new one on. By the way, you should make this a practice ANYTIME you are assigned a new project so that you will be clear about which project should take priority. Not only will this help you focus on the important issues, it also helps your manager stay focused as well. It shows that your intentions are to do the best job you can!

Lastly, we also need to set boundaries with respect to others in the workplace. Our coworkers and peers also need to know our boundaries. There are boundaries that can be set as pertains to tone of voice in the workplace, people’s attitudes toward each other, working with those you may have a personal conflict with and limiting conversations to workplace topics.

Now that we have some examples of boundaries in the workplace, we can look at how to set these boundaries in a positive way. We must be clear with others about our boundaries and communicate them in a way that is not offensive. One of the biggest mistakes people make is setting boundaries in our own minds but not openly sharing them with the people we work with. Sometimes we assume that others should know our boundaries. But if we don’t clearly communicate where we’ve drawn the line, how will they know when they’ve overstepped it?

Fortunately, when people are aware of your boundaries, most of them will respect them and apologize if they accidentally cross the line. Without clear communication, the lines become blurred, and it can be unclear to others what those boundaries are.

This brings us to saying no gracefully. This is one of the hardest things to do for some people. If you are the people pleaser, then it can be next to impossible to say no. Even when you know you are overloaded and that it will cause you great difficulty to take something new on. If we learn to say no graciously and professionally, we can save everyone involved a lot of grief.

One of the downsides to never saying no, is that the quality of your work can suffer if you take on too much because it becomes much harder to produce quality results. You also run the risk of missing deadlines. When these types of things happen, we develop a certain reputation that we cannot be relied on to make deadlines or that our quality suffers. This is exactly the opposite of the reputation you are trying to develop.

Learning how to say “no” will make your overall work quality and mental health improve and make you a true team player.

How do we gracefully say no? Here are some ideas that I hope will help you.

First things first, evaluate the request. Before jumping to the conclusion that you have to say “no”, ask for more information about the opportunity. You should ask about the deadlines, the importance of the opportunity, and what exactly your job would be. Then, based on this extra information, you can decide if you can take on this task.

By evaluating the opportunity, you are saying to the person who is asking you that you want to help, rather than just saying “no” from the beginning.

Knowing the status of your priorities will help you determine if you can take on extra tasks. If you see that you have multiple priorities and that taking on anymore will cause you to become overwhelmed, then say “no”. It is important to communicate your current priorities to them so that they know why you are saying no. This will give you the opportunity to have a discussion about making sure you have your priorities ordered properly.

Be straightforward and authentic when providing reasons for not being able to help your coworkers or your boss. Otherwise, you can come across as disingenuous and unpersuasive.

Saying “no” doesn’t always mean that you are saying “no” to the entire task. You can say “not yet” to doing it today, or this week, or just to doing the entire thing but be willing to do a part of it. Therefore, offering alternatives can help both you and the person asking for help. Being open and flexible is key. Rather than completely turning down the opportunity, suggest helping them at a later date when you can take the time to produce better quality work.

Saying “yes” to everything will make your bosses and colleagues trust that they can count on you to always help them. And then what happens? You get overloaded or asked to work on projects that no one else wants. Rather than having your coworkers trust that you will always help them, have your coworkers trust that you will always produce your best quality work. Maintaining this attitude will make your boss and colleagues appreciate your work more. If you have too much on your plate, the quality of your work will suffer and can kill productivity. Remember, sometimes saying “no” is the better choice and benefits everyone in the end.

Sometimes when we are not surprised by the request, things come out the wrong way. Therefore, practicing how to say “no” will prepare you for those times that your bandwidth is stretched to its max.

Saying “yes” and taking on too much will find you constantly working late or bringing work home with you, then you no longer have a healthy work-life balance. This may also cause you to resent your job and create a negative work environment.  So practicing saying “no” will ensure that when you are asked to do something and don’t have the time, you’ll know how to say it politely and effectively to avoid those feelings.

The most important thing to remember is that it is healthy to set boundaries and to know when to say “no”. If we make it a habit of always saying yes there are consequences to our actions. We can get overloaded, with no work-life balance, get resentful of work and all of this adds up to less-than-positive results.

So with honesty and authenticity, politely learn to say “no” or “not yet” so that you can maintain a healthy life style and great reputation for delivering the best quality!


About Connie

My greatest joy is helping clients become people who lead. My mission is to help people grow into the strong, successful people that I know they can be.  My passion is building great talent while building authentic and long-lasting relationships! I also love using my experience as both a corporate executive and an entrepreneur to provide actionable feedback that helps people reach new heights no matter if that is working in the corporate world or as an entrepreneur or as a stay-at-home parent! I start right where you are and we grow from there!

Growing up in a small town, I often found myself wondering if there were more to the world than this. After being given opportunities to lead, I genuinely felt like I was in my element for the first time in my life. I decided it was time to break free of my limitations and become the person I knew I was meant to be—confident to build a career that I had always imagined.

I have had a career signature of being asked by senior corporate leaders such as Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer, and Rick Wagoner to assume advisor-consultant roles with clients and executive teams. I was recruited by The Walt Disney Company to coach executives and worked jointly with their leadership to create career development plans for Disney’s Enterprise IT group.

As a recognized leader and mentor, I hold more than 20 years’ experience building relationships, developing teams, and coaching associates to success.

You can contact me via email at [email protected].


Thank you for reading our blog! Check out some of our self-directed trainings here!

Learn More

Stay connected with news and updates!

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.
Don't worry, your information will not be shared.

We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason.