← Go Back

Do you and your team struggle with excessive workloads, tight deadlines and conflicting priorities? If so, the problem may be that you don’t say “no” often enough.

Saying “no” in the workplace can be difficult. Many people fear that if they turn down requests or assignments, they may find themselves out of a job. It’s an understandable fear, and there is a kernel of truth to it—if you say “no” too often, you can certainly make yourself appear to be uncooperative, hostile or just plain lazy. On the other hand, if you say “yes” to every request that comes your way, you’ll soon bury yourself with unnecessary tasks and assignments that no one else wants to take.

empower employees to say no

As a project manager, you should have the ability to say “no” to customers, managers or other stakeholders, and you should help the members of your team develop the same skill. These strategies can help.

Knowing When to Say “No”

Whether you’re dealing with customers, business partners or internal colleagues, you’re certain to encounter unreasonable requests every now and then. Employee empowerment begins with telling your team members that they have the authority to say “no” when appropriate. In fact, you should let your team know that they are not only allowed, but expected, to deny requests in these situations.

  • Uncontrolled scope changes: Customers will often try to change requirements or add deliverables once a project is underway. You can stop scope creep before it starts by helping your team members understand the parameters of each project, and empowering them to turn down new requests that aren’t part of a change order.
  • Unrealistic timelines: Delivering on an urgent request can make you a hero, but committing to a tight deadline and then failing to meet it can make you a scapegoat for someone else’s poor planning. Let your team members know that it’s OK to say “no” when someone asks the impossible.
  • Misplaced responsibility: Project teams are often asked to take on work that rightfully belongs to someone else. Doing someone else’s work can disengage employees and hurt project quality all at once. Give your team members detailed descriptions of their roles and responsibilities during the kick-off meeting, and tell them to be on the lookout for rogue requests.

Know How to Say “No” Without Damage to Working Relationships

Knowing when to say “no” is one thing, but team members also need to know how to do it without creating unnecessary friction or hostility.

The key to denying a request tactfully is to show that you understand what you’re being asked to do but have reasons for saying “no.” Explain to your team members that when they turn down a request they should maintain a collaborative demeanor, and point out the problems that the request would create if someone tried to comply with it. One of the best ways to keep everyone in the loop, set expectations and make it clear what your bandwidth is before you need to say no is to use a modern work management system like Clarizen.

Todd Valentine
Todd is a Senior Product Manager at Clarizen. Todd has experience working in innovation, product development and PMO organizations within VMware’s CTO office. He has a master's in Information Systems and an MBA from the Questrom School of Business at Boston University.