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How to tactfully say 'no' at work

Justin Thompson, CareerBuilder Writer

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Many of us have been in a position where our boss, our co-worker, a client or customer has asked us to do something that we know is a bad idea or a complete waste of time. More often than not, we bite our tongues for fear of being the office Debbie Downer. But if we can save the company from a giant public relations or financial fiasco, why shouldn't we speak up?

I asked several professionals to share their experiences and tips on how to turn a "No" into a suitable arrangement for you and your counterpart.

Diana Booher, author of the new book "Communicate with Confidence: How to Say It Right the First Time and Every Time," has tips on how to handle a questionable work request.

1. Start on a positive note: Remember to keep your body language and tone in check, and be supportive of a new idea. Don't be defensive and go for the negative right away. Allow yourself time to mull over what the person has said and see if you can accommodate it in any way.

2. Learn to say "Yes, and ...": Instead of offering up a "No" right away, go with a "Yes, and." Then, explain how the work could be accomplished and if that means certain elements would have to change or wait in order to complete the project or task.

3. Offer explanations: This is another time to watch your tone and body language. Explanations shouldn't be excuses, nor should they focus solely on your lack of time or ability to get certain tasks done. Sometimes people make unreasonable requests because they don't have a grasp of the amount of work that goes into certain projects. Help them understand the steps and time involved, and if that's the solution they want, how it would affect the business overall.

4. Provide alternative solutions: Focus on figuring out the other person's goal versus his course of action. By understanding what he wants to achieve, you may be able to come up with alternatives that are more cost-effective, timely and manageable within your workload but provide the same results. By giving these options, you can also be seen as a valuable resource with a vested interest in either the company you work for or the client you are working with.

5. End with goodwill: Always try to wrap up a "no" conversation with a positive, and outline what you'll be able to achieve and the next steps or timeline of milestones. If no alternatives are possible, offer to join future discussions or talks -- that will show that you're willing to be a partner in upcoming projects.

It's also worth investigating the "Disney Process," which Leigh Steer, co-founder of Managing Better People LLC, recommends. She suggests that companies use this process to uncover how some "pipe dreams" can be achievable.

It's also good to note that regardless of the request origin -- even from your boss -- don't think you cannot reach out to someone senior and ask for help in setting priorities or coming up with a solution that will address everyone's needs. By keeping a list of priorities, you're able to document the things you've been asked for but also give realistic expectations and deadlines to those who've asked for your help on projects or tasks. Also, keeping a record of the request you receive will hold you accountable. It can then be used to your benefit later when negotiating for a raise or promotion.

Justin Thompson is a writer and blogger for CareerBuilder.com and its job blog, The Work Buzz. He researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.



Last Updated: 01/02/2012 - 12:03 PM


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