As a Central Virginia employment agency, we know that “do more with less” has become a way of life for many companies operating in today’s economy. As a result, employees can feel overworked and overwhelmed. While you may simply have to face reality and take on more responsibility in order to keep your job, there is a breaking point. If you’ve reached yours, and don’t know what to do, then it’s time to learn how to say one simple word: No.

Unfortunately, “no” can be seen as a four-letter word at work for a variety of reasons:

  • You don’t want to upset your boss.
  • You’re afraid of being viewed as a slacker.
  • You don’t want to put your job in jeopardy.
  • You don’t want to create any hard feelings or tension among your co-workers.

So how can you just say “no” without upsetting the balance at work? Here are some tips to help you set boundaries:

Weigh the risks and benefits of the offer.

Before you say no, think about the risks and benefits of taking on, or not taking on, a project. For instance, if you’re being asked to do something because of your unique expertise, you may want to accept. Being seen as “the expert” or “the go-to person” for certain issues at work is not a bad thing and is certainly an image you want to perpetuate. In addition, if you’re an entry level or junior staffer, this could be an opportunity to prove yourself. However, if your position is more senior and the task is something other employees could easily handle, then it’s wise to turn it down and devote your time to other priorities.


If your boss insists you take on a project or task and your plate is beyond full, then ask your boss to help you prioritize your “to do” list. Let him or her know that you don’t want to turn down the project, but you cannot realistically get it done with all your other responsibilities. There may be a project that you’re currently working on that can be put on hold for the time being while you take on a new responsibility.

Offer an alternative.

When you have to decline a project, try to offer the person doing the asking an alternative. For instance, if you know one of your co-workers is looking to take on more responsibility, you may want to pass along their name instead. Or try to help out in another way. You may not be able to actively participate in a project, but you may be able to offer some guidance or feedback to those who do.

Turn down the offer in person.

It’s hard to communicate your willingness to help in an email. The person asking for it may think they’re getting the cold shoulder when you say “no” via email. So make the effort to do it in person and offer a reason for turning down the offer that goes beyond “I’m just too busy.”

The bottom line is that if you take the right approach, you should be able to set limits without jeopardizing your work relationships or your job. If that’s not possible, though, and you’re ready to look for a more rewarding job opportunity, Adams & Garth can help. As the first locally-owned, non-franchise employment agency in Central Virginia, we take great pride in our ability to match candidates with terrific jobs in the region. Contact us today to learn more.

4 Responses to “How to Say “No” Without Creating Hard Feelings”


  1.  How to Be More Assertive at Work | Lynchburg Recruiters | Adams & Garth Blog
  2.  How to Be More Assertive at Work | Lynchburg Recruiters | Adams & Garth Blog

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