In-house Interpersonal: In The No

Can You (Gracefully) Say “No?”

by Ilise Benun


The ability to say no is crucial to success in business. It plays a role in managing, setting up realistic expectations, establishing trust, and being a professional. But we often say “yes” to avoid conflict or to prevent another person from getting mad, despite the fact that we know from experience that a simple “yes” in a moment of weakness can snowball into turmoil or conflict down the road.


It can be tricky, however, when it’s your job to do what is asked of you and “no” doesn’t seem to be a real option.

Maybe it’s not as black and white as “yes or no.” Instead, try to engage in a conversation to problem solve how the task could get done effectively with other resources. Here are a couple phrases to try:

  • “I don’t think I’m best suited for that project. I’d like to discuss another way we can do this.”
  • “My workload is close to capacity and I’m afraid I wouldn’t do my best work. I’d like to look at other resources we might work with.”

It is essential to know your capabilities and be clear with others about what you can and cannot do. And it’s always better to under-promise and over-deliver rather than the opposite.

What have you tried that works?

One thought on “In-house Interpersonal: In The No

  1. Donna

    I’ve always taken the “mechanics” approach to projects. I always quote the job as taking longer than I expect it to in case of unforeseen complications. Then, when the job is completed in two hours instead of the three I quoted, my client is pleasantly surprised & they become a repeat customer.

    I’ve also tried to state the difficulty of some tasks I’ve been asked to do in attempt to get the client to understand that maybe Photoshopping various images together isn’t the best/most cost effective approach & they should hire a photographer (for example) but it doesn’t always work. They tend to want me to try first.

    Word to the wise: Clients that know how to appeal to your ego can wear down any practiced defenses.