Real Careers: On Saying No

This month, we’re celebrating admin. professionals’ accomplishments and workplace strategies.

This Week

Do you ever have difficulty saying “no”? This week, we’re looking at where some of our Real Careers alumni stand on using this word in the workplace. While some find it difficult or inappropriate to say no to requests in the office, many have a different view.

Here’s the first of this series; check back each day for more!

Mirella Autard-Catherine, Mauritius: I never say “no” to my boss, though it happens that I negotiate with him for some extra time if a deadline needs to be met. However, I have had to learn to say “no” to some of my colleagues, because I am so inclined to give a helping hand – listening to those who come and see me to vent off a problem or ask for advice, may it be personal or professional – that I end up forgetting about myself and find myself spending too much time on others rather than on my own objectives. I am now able to say “no” with tact and diplomacy.

Margo Baptista, Canada: I say “no” when the task or issue simply does not make sense – interestingly, this seems to happen quite a bit, particularly when someone does not think things through. My only tip is to thoroughly think the matter through, don’t hesitate to speak up (often you can help another person or the institution avoid creating an issue by doing so), and be solid in your rationale/argument.

Bianca Constance, USA: While I hardly ever say no to anyone in the office, I will say “not now” and I have never had anyone push back. I find that, many times, the urgency is only in finding someone to do the task rather than completing the task immediately.


Jennifer Corcoran, England: It can be hard to say no in our role as we are helpful facilitators by nature, but sometimes it is necessary to push back and redefine our boundaries and be more assertive. My main tip is to say no without actually using the word “no”. For example, “Let me see if I can find someone more suitable to help you with that.”

I try to under commit and over deliver by setting realistic deadlines: “Yes, I can do that and I will have it done for you by the end of tomorrow.”  One final tip is to say you need to check your calendar – this will buy you a minute or two to respond accordingly.

Susan Engelbrecht, South Africa: Sadly, I do not often say NO. But I have learnt to do so without being rude. Learning to be assertive takes time and practice.

Michela Luoni, Italy:  … sometimes is good for you to curb the responsibilities and tasks that managers (and some colleagues) tend to lay on you; hence, negotiate your “no” by proposing an alternative / some change of priority. Furthermore, always ask when things need to be done, as the priorities of others aren’t yours. You’ll realize how frequently you tend to give high priority to things that can be deferred a bit later.


Lisa Olsen, USA: I am not known to say “no,” but I don’t get allow people to drop things in my lap either. Instead, I ask questions to get clarity on the priority and then respond accordingly. I keep people updated on the status of their requests.

Emeka Otoba, Nigeria: I have learned that people will always be who they are; humans … I try to be as polite but as firm as possible. When I say “no”, I try to communicate how much I would love to help but my priorities incapacitate me temporarily. But when I can, I actually do.

Jacqui Quigley, Republic of Ireland: This is always an interesting question for me as some PAs really hate saying no for fear of the consequences, but I feel saying “no” for me has made me more assertive and confident in my abilities… The approach I would normally take consists of – “I’m currently working on… I don’t mind taking this but I won’t get to it until the end of the week” or, “As you know, my priority lies with… so I cannot guarantee my full attention”. Alternatively, I would just be upfront and honest and say, “I’m sorry, I don’t have the capacity for this”.


Melanie Sheehy, England: … I’d suggest colleagues might say I say “no” often.  I feel my role is to support the CEO, and it’s my call as to whether I think he need involve himself in all matters. Thankfully, we’ve worked together so long that I usually make the right call.  In terms of advice, I think it’s having that mutual understanding with your colleagues, being in tune with their thinking.

Carolina Siqueira Silva : It is really very hard for me to say no, because I hate to disappoint people. Fortunately, I have improved a lot and am in the process of learning to say NO without guilt.

Matthew Want, England: I used to be really bad at saying no to people. I got better at saying no over the last year, mainly by saying, “I’m busy at the moment, can you come back later” or “I don’t have time now to do it but can quickly show you how you can do it”. This is a great way to say no without actually saying the word no to someone.

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