It is just plain tough to say no – isn’t it?

Saying no at work complicates things even further. You need to be a team player. You might be proving yourself still. You could be known as the “Yes!” Woman, because you always help out and come to the rescue. But no one else knows how much is on your plate but you. You are in control of your plate. Asking for seconds and thirds, or pushing it away because you and it are full, is up to you. Saying no is important and necessary. There are ways to make it part of your everyday work vocabulary so it gets easier, and more natural for you.

“And yes, you can say no to a request, because a request is not a command,” Deborah Grayson Riegel writes for Psychology Today. “A request is an ask to which we can say ‘yes,’ ‘no,’ or make a counteroffer, while a command assumes an obligation. However, we often think of requests as commands, sometimes due to the tone in which the request is made, or a power differential, or our fear of the other person’s reaction, or even a feeling of indebtedness.”

Consider all of those possibilities the next time you receive a request at the office. Take a moment to decipher whether it truly is a command or a request. Sort out the emotions and preconceptions attached to it. Then make up your mind to say no with confidence.

“We often wrestle with being too passive (when we want to avoid conflict or hurt feelings), too aggressive (when we worry our needs will be ignored), or even passive-aggressive (when we’re feeling manipulated, punished or otherwise concerned that an honest or direct approach won’t work),” Grayson Riegel says, cutting straight to the quick.

Here are a few ways she came up with to say no assertively to a request for your time. Try them out. Use them verbatim. This will give you confidence.

  • I am so flattered that you asked but unfortunately I cannot do that. Can I help you brainstorm someone who might be able to help?
  • Normally, I would say yes, but I have already committed to ________.
  • I am grateful for the opportunity and for you thinking of me. However, I am totally booked with commitments I made months ago.
  • Not this time, but when’s the next opportunity available for something like this?
  • I am heads-down on a project right now, and won’t be coming up for air for the next [insert timeframe]. Can we plan to do something after that?