By nature, I don’t love conflict. But even if you love turning people down left and right, saying no to requests is still an art – especially at work. Why is this? It’s because you still need the people you love to reject to work together with you to achieve a common goal. You may not need to be friends, but you need to function well together. So, that starts with how you say no to everyone’s requests. Sometimes, it helps to channel your favorite movies for turning people down – mine happen to be Top Gun and Pirates of the Caribbean, apparently. But you may have others that can help you infuse some extra humor into a rejection.
5 Ways to Say No to People at Work
There’s a lot of ways to dismiss an unwanted request, but how you do it could be the difference between dysfunctional and cohesive for your team members. You don’t have to walk on egg shells, but you do need to be thoughtful and strategic.
1. “I’m disinclined to acquiesce to your request. Means no.”
Channel your inner Captain Barbosa whenever you need to say no to your coworkers. I’ve found it works great on family members too. It’s both smart sounding and direct.
2. “Negative, Ghost Rider, the pattern is full.”
This is for all you Top Gun fans out there – and this is an especially great month to use this phrase. Maybe your client wants to add in additional requirements that will alter the timelines of the entire project. Or maybe your team member wants to kick some work to next week. This is a lighter way of saying no that gets a laugh that helps to diffuse the response.
3. That was not what I had envisioned.
This is my recent favorite in my personal life. Essentially, my tendency is to either say yes to people’s request or scrounge up enough awkwardness in the moment to directly say no. But recently, saying that something is not what I had envisioned tends to soften the blow and open up a conversation. Another option is to say, “Here’s what my I had as my vision.” and then let the other person see the differences and talk through them. Sometimes, it’s less about what’s in and what’s out, and more about what creates the best win at the end. Everyone comes at life with a different view, and seeing someone else’s vision can help create something better in the end.
4. I wish I could say yes. Thanks for thinking of me.
This one is all positive with still being a no under the surface. This response gets the no across, but it doesn’t give the other person a lot of room to either understand or judge your position. I tend to save this response for someone who I’m not well connected with and may not work closely with in the future.
5. Hard pass.
I usually save this one for my kids, but it’s the one I use for all the ridiculous requests – the ones that are clearly outside your personal or the company’s boundaries. Save this one for the lighthearted moments, but also for the serious times when you need to clearly state your no.
It’s a Balancing Act
There are a lot of ways to turn people’s requests down. Sometimes, the requests are so ludicrous that laughter is truly the best response. There are actually stupid questions getting asked all the time. But you want to balance your responses to the person, the request, and the moment. Sooner or later, you’re going to need them to say yes to you, so it’s important to understand the balance so you can make the team work together.