How to Say No Without Sounding Like It

Julie Shenkman
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When you are an administrative professional, it sometimes seems as if half your workday consists of saying no to various people. You have to turn down people's requests for time off, pay increases, doing things their way rather than the office way, long lunches and even increased hours. Constantly saying no can be tiring. The following are a few tips for saying no without sounding like it.

Take Time to Hear the Request

The day-to-day happenings in the office may cause you to multi-task to the extent that your default response to any request is likely to be no. It is just easier to reply in the negative than it is to think through what the person is really asking for, especially when you already have half a dozen things on your mind. When you say no under these circumstances, you are likely to think back and realize there was no reason for the negative response other than all the distractions. Instead, set aside time each day to hear requests from your co-workers, and make it clear that you will be happy to talk to them. This gives you time and clarity to listen to the request, ponder it carefully and either agree to it or refuse politely. Even if you must decline, the requester knows you treated him with respect and consideration.

Refer to Someone Else

When people come to you with requests that you honestly cannot answer, the temptation to just say no and get the matter off your desk is strong. Instead, refer the requester to someone who can probably answer, or provide him with resources that help him answer his own question. All too often, people want factual information they could discover for themselves. Instead of refusing politely to help, refer them to a better source of information. This is a way of saying no to the request without making it obvious.

Say Yes to Something Else

There are times when you must honestly refuse to grant someone's request. That request may mean a great deal to the requester, such as when she asks for a raise or promotion. In these cases, maintaining your relationship with the requester is of equal or even greater importance than conveying your negative response. Look for a way to say yes to something else. Perhaps you are not able to grant a raise to a worker, but you can do something to improve her working environment or give her greater autonomy in her job. Find a way to turn the negative into a positive and be honest about your regret that you are not able to say yes to the initial request.

It is not always possible to say yes to every request that comes your way in the workplace, and it would be foolish to try. Nevertheless, there is no need to carry any guilt or discomfort over having to say no, even if you must do it frequently. Find ways to deflect disappointment by choosing your responses carefully, and look forward to calmer interactions at work.


(Photo courtesy of imagerymajestic /


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