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How to say no: Setting boundaries in the workplace

How to say no: Setting boundaries in the workplace

As an employee, the pressure is on to be as productive as you can be. In a fast-paced company, the idea of slowing or halting the rhythm is a nightmare. The idea of saying no to certain tasks can be daunting. The fear of damaging your reputation or being considered lazy is huge.

Why it is important to say no guilt-free

Setting boundaries in the workplace is extremely important. You are not a superhero. You cannot do everything and that is okay. Saying no ensures your work quality and mental wellbeing is maintained.

It stops you taking too much on and reducing your productivity and work-life balance. Setting boundaries protects yourself and your work. Remembering this makes it okay to say no.

The dangers of overcommitting by saying yes

By agreeing to do everything, you can easily become overcommitted. Overcommitment turns into being overwhelmed with a full to do list that only increases. Becoming burnt out and drained can follow which can have a serious impact on your mental health.

The tasks you will be doing will not be to your best standard, even to the point they might have to be redone. It means that you are sacrificing your wellbeing unnecessarily which will drain your morale.

Here are three examples of overcommitting:

Doing other people’s work as a favor

In a workplace you’re going to have friends. Whilst this is healthy and great for a good work environment, it can become toxic. One favor turns into two and before you know it, a habit has formed.

With an already packed to do list, another thing to do can be too much. It means another hour or more to your day which can lead to sacrifices being made. You can be spending another hour in the office or taking time out
of your breaks.

Taking on tasks to just get them done

If tasks are being asked to be done, it is easy just to say yes. Being frustrated that they are not being done or pressure to do it can get you to say yes. Just like the previous example, this can
also become habit. You can become known in the office for doing spare tasks.

This label makes it even harder to say no. You will not only be doing your own tasks but the fallout of all the forgotten tasks from your coworkers. It also diverts your time and energy to the less important tasks of your day that are not assigned to you due to your position or expertise.

Sacrificing your own needs

By not saying no and taking on more tasks, sacrifices can be forced to happen in your own day. In order to complete your own daily tasks and the tasks of others, you need to find extra time.

This can cause you to forget your own needs for a productive day by not going on breaks or working overtime to complete your tasks. By not treating yourself right, your work-life balance is disrupted.

You are not giving yourself time away from your work so you can relax and destress. Instead, you are overloading yourself and making your whole life work.

So how do you say no professionally and politely?

Saying no is a daunting task. When you know it is not in your nature, it is hard to figure out how to deliver the ‘no’. To keep professional whilst doing so, here are things to keep in mind:

Know your capacity

Knowing your capacity can come from keeping a schedule, setting realistic deadlines and tracking your progress. Understanding why you are saying no empowers and motivates you. Whether it’s due to mental or time constraints, reminding yourself of the reason for keeps you motivated and grounded.

Be concise and polite

Keep your tone professional throughout to establish boundaries. By doing so, you show that your decision is based on valid reasons rather than laziness. Keeping the reply concise and not rambling, as this can lead to frustration and a potentially argumentative tone.

Explain why you can’t

Explaining that you have too much on today and do not have time to do the task is all that is needed. You don’t need to go into detail about what it is that you have on. Keeping it brief keeps the answer clear and asserts your decision.

Offer an alternative

To help with the process of getting tasks done, offering an alternative can be useful. This is especially helpful for managers saying no to tasks.

By asking if anyone else could do it, or if the person asking could delay the task until they are free can move the process along. It removes the urgency of doing the task if possible and creates ease of mind for everyone involved.

Stick to your guns

You’ve considered your work and mental load and you have decided to say no. You know it is the right decision so stick to it. Have confidence in yourself that it is the right choice. You don’t need to go back and forth in debate.

If you did say yes, follow through

If for whatever reason you had to eventually say yes, follow through. Dedicate the time to do the task and do it to the best of your ability. As strongly as you would say no, be as strong when you say yes. This ensure that when you do need to say “no”, people will take you more seriously.

Who do you say no to, and how do you do it?

At work, you may need to say no to a manager, coworkers, or even clients. Each person has a different role in your work life therefore you will need to adjust your response accordingly. By doing this, you remain professional and maintain a good relationship by setting boundaries respectfully.

To your manager

Saying no to your manager is very intimidating. There is a need to impress and maintain your reputation as a good employee. So how do you say no to someone so important?

The first thing to remember is that managers are often not aware of how busy every employee is. Therefore, if you don’t have capacity to finish a task when asked, explaining that you have other important deadlines coming up is key.

By offering to do the tasks at another time, you show your willingness to help when you have the capacity to do so. Even if they give it to someone else you offered and that puts you in a good standing.

To your coworkers

Saying no to your coworkers can be hard especially when you have a close relationship to them. It can feel like your letting your friend down and it can cause worry that you aren’t going to be able to ask for favors in the future.

Remembering that it is still important to say no even to your friends is crucial. A friendly tone can help to maintain the close nature of your relationship whilst setting boundaries.

Being polite and friendly can create ease in your response making both you and your coworker happy with the conversation.

To your customer

Your relationship with your customers is obviously crucial. You are representing your company therefore must maintain a good relationship to keep the reputation of the company and ensure sales. 

When trying to please customers, it is easy for boundaries to be overstepped. For example, customers can often unknowingly overstep by asking for things outside of work hours.

Reassuring your customer that whilst you cannot do the task immediately but can complete it the next day maintains your boundary as well as the respect for your customer’s needs. Everyone’s happy!

Saying no: you know it’s the right thing to do

The thought of saying no can be like facing a brick wall you have to climb. It’s daunting and can feel impossible. The idea of just knuckling down and getting through it seems like the better option. 

But you must have confidence in yourself. By having the initial thought of saying no you know deep down that it is the best thing for you. As an employee, you are not expected to do anything and everything.

You are expected to do your job and only your job. Saying yes to things is just doing a favor, not a necessity unless specified. By saying no, you are protecting yourself and your work quality.

If you just remember when saying no to:

  • Be polite
  • Explain your reasoning even if brief
  • Offer an alternative
  • Stick to your guns

By doing this you are essentially keeping the peace between you and whoever you are saying no to. It also shows how you are saying no now but are open to future opportunities. You remain professional whilst saying no guilt free.

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