Real Careers: On Saying No (4)

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

… and this week, we’re looking at where some of our Real Careers alumni stand on using the word “no” to people 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 last in this week’s series, and you can always see what other alum have said by following the drop-down menus under Real Careers.


Bethany Fovargue, England: I have learnt to say “no” to avoid being overwhelmed, but it’s not easy when you are considered, as PAs are, to be a “go-to” person. I try to ensure that I give a realistic deadline if I am able to help and a clear and accurate reason if I am not, for example, if the request is outside of my skill set.

Karen Glenn, England: It is important to say no, especially if you have a huge workload – all of which will be a priority with tight deadlines. There are ways of saying it; I usually explain that I am under some time constraints with some strict deadlines to get things completed, and as they have usually come from my boss they are my priority.

I explain that I would love to help, but can only help the person once I have cleared down my current list of activities – it really does depend on what they are after as it could be something that some other team member could help them with. In that case, I would direct them to the relevant person.

Kim Glover, England: Don’t you find, because you’re good at your job, everyone asks you do stuff for them all the time? They do so because they know you can be relied upon to a) get it done and b) do a great job. That being the case, you have to say no sometimes – there are only so many hours in the day. Whilst there are times when you have to flex and really pull out all the stops – working crazy hours and delivering a massive workload – that’s not sustainable long term. And what good is a burnt-out Assistant to their boss? Our bosses depend on us being there, delivering a consistent service, and to do that we need to stay healthy by managing our workloads and stress levels.


Susan Henderson, England: I try to be as helpful as possible but I am always realistic. If I cannot help with a task, I will try to find someone who can assist. It really depends on the importance/priority of the task, but I am happy to say “no” and manage expectations where necessary. I find it is not saying no that can be hard to hear; it is often how you say no. You could be saying no to right now but yes to first thing in the morning. I think the key is to be assertive and positive – learn how to say no and not feel guilty about it, whilst remaining solutions focused. Practice makes perfect!

Lilian Kamanzi Mugisha, Uganda: It is not easy to say “no” and, truthfully, I struggled with that aspect for years.  If I said no, I would end up feeling guilty. Over the years I have learnt to say Yes to those things that I will give my best, and No to those things I do not have to do or can delegate elsewhere without feeling guilty.

The tip I have is that if you are a “yes” person all the time, you suffer burnout and sometimes you are looked at as a mother hen trying to ensure everything is done. You end up doing everything yourself.  Delegation is an art and science, so as a very busy Executive Secretary (ES), that is something you need to learn and manage well.

Sofie Koark, Sweden: I don’t say no to a lot in life, and I find that it has brought me adventures and opportunities both in my personal life and in my career. I say no at work when I don’t feel that my time is used wisely and won’t benefit my CEO. I don’t have a problem saying no when necessary; you just have to explain the reasons so that people understand.


Stacy Leitner, USA: I rarely say “no” to people. I liken my position to that of a concierge at a hotel. I don’t have to do everything; I just have to ensure everything gets done. People are my greatest resource in helping our office to be responsive to the demands of the day.

Helen LePoidevin, England: I do not like saying “no” to anyone and feel really guilty if I do. However, if I am too busy at the time someone asks for a piece of work, I will always ask them when it needs to be completed and then I can determine if it is a priority. If it is not, I will add it to my “to do” list for when I have the time. I do see myself as a good delegator and allocate work to other members of the team if they have the capacity.

Catrin Morgan, Wales: Saying “no” is a really tricky one. But actually, I think it’s more about how you deliver the message. I am always more than happy to help but the trick is to ask questions – what other people deem to be urgent may not be a priority on your list. For example, do you have to say no? Or can you say “not now”, instead?


Tholo Motaung, South Africa: I do not say “no” to people often, unless there is a good reason. It is important to provide a good reason  and offer other options / alternatives, if they are available, when one says “no” to another person. If I always say “yes” to everything, then I run the risk of being overloaded or transgressing the set rules, in which case I will be found incompetent and/or unreliable.

Rosy Painter, England: It is my job to say yes.  No isn’t possible in my role, the key is managing people’s expectations: “Yes, I can write that report, but it won’t be finished until next week.”

Katherine Vaillancourt, Canada: It’s not really saying no but, more so, how can we help? It may just be that the person needs help in finding the right person to help with his/her issue. Having those conversations is important in not only finding a solution, but it builds the relationship you have with that individual.

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