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How To Say No To Your Boss

Four ways to decline a work request without losing your job

By Miriam Salpeter and AOL Jobs


How can you find a balance between maintaining your indispensable status at work and your sanity? Unfortunately, there are no easy answers. Everyone's circumstances are different, and if you work in a place where you're only as good as the last thing you've done, not all of this advice may work for you.

(MORE: How Boomers Can Prove Their Value at Work)

However, often, once you've created a reputation for being agreeable, carefully choosing times to say “no” may not hurt your work reputation and may earn you respect.


How can you say no without risking it all at work? Here are four ways to approach the dilemma. 


1. Choose the situation carefully. If everyone is stressed to the hilt, you're up for a promotion and the boss comes to you with a desperate request for help, it's probably not the time to decide you're going to change your reputation as the “can-do” person in the office. On the other hand, if things are a bit more stable, and it seems like there are plenty of people who could help out, you should have more leeway to indicate if your plate is already full. See the following suggestions for ideas to say no instead of yes.


2. Learn to say no, without saying no. Perhaps your boss forgot about all of the other crucial work you are doing. Instead of saying, “No, I cannot take on one more project,” say, “I can see how important this project is. Can we sit down for a few minutes so you can help me prioritize my work? I want to be sure to focus on the most important things.”


In this meeting, make sure you don't forget to include any key projects (or even day-to-day work) you're managing. If you can make a solid case indicating that you really don't have time to handle another thing, it's possible you can say “no” without actually uttering those words.



3. Suggest an alternate solution. Perhaps you are too busy to take on the work by yourself but you can handle one part of the project. If you have a specialty area (for example, you're the best at analyzing data), suggest that you could manage that piece of the project in partnership with someone who specializes in the research piece.



If you already have planned time off to attend a family wedding or your child's graduation, and this new project will interfere with that, you may choose to tell your boss you cannot help. Ideally, you won't lead the conversation with the word “no.”

Instead, choose your words carefully, remind your supervisor that you always like to say yes, but the circumstances this time mean you'd like to help by coming up with another solution.

Miriam Salpeter is a job search and social media consultant, career coach, author, speaker, resume writer and owner of Keppie Careers. She is author of Social Networking for Business Success, Social Networking for Career Success and 100 Conversations for Career Success.


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