It’s one of the most challenging aspects of any career — when and how to say “no” to a supervisor. It’s a delicate situation, but you should never be afraid to voice your concerns, especially when you feel a request is unjustified. Thankfully, an outright refusal isn’t your only option. Here’s how to navigate common workplace scenarios.
You’re overwhelmed with work. Let’s say that your co-worker, Mary, quits and you’ve inherited her work load. If you feel that her additional work precludes you from doing your job to your best ability, you should say something to your supervisor. It’s wise to pitch in and help on a temporary basis. This will make you look like a team player, but your best best is to try to find another option. For example, try to identify co-workers who have a more flexible schedule and would welcome some extra responsibility.
Unprofessional requests. If your boss asks you to babysit her kids or work all weekend, and you can’t or don’t feel it’s appropriate, it’s OK to say so. Instead of saying no directly, suggest an alternative. Offer to work Saturday morning or take some work home with you over the weekend. A compromise will show your good intentions.
Impossible deadlines. If a deadline is unrealistic or impossible to achieve, be straightforward at the start. It’s best to state your concerns as soon as possible to avoid getting yourself into a bind and defaulting on your obligations. Break the project into smaller pieces and ask your boss to prioritize which aspects are most important. Explain you will be able to complete some parts of the project by the deadline, but not the entire assignment. Suggest an alternative time frame.
Unethical assignments. Don’t risk your reputation or your career. If your boss or co-worker asks you to do anything illegal or unethical, politely decline. This includes anything you feel crosses your personal boundaries of integrity. In this case, it’s best to be direct. Explain why you are uncomfortable with the request and say no. If you feel uncomfortable working with a particular person, ask to be transferred or look for another job opportunity.
Have you ever said “no” to your supervisor at work?