The Power of “No” (& 5 Ways to Say No to Your Manager)

The Power of “No” (& 5 Ways to Say No to Your Manager)

In the ever-evolving lattice of our careers, amidst the striving for success, career growth, and personal fulfillment, lies a remarkably understated tool, often overlooked yet immensely powerful—saying "No." Rather than being career limiting as we might first think, a well-placed "No" is an affirmation of your priorities, values, and most importantly, your self-worth. In the journey toward being empowered in your career and being in control of your own agenda (time, energy & priorities), understanding when and how to say "No" can be transformative and liberating.


In many workplaces, there's a prevailing belief that saying "Yes"—to every opportunity, request, or assignment—is the golden path to advancement, recognition, and success. This mindset, though well-intentioned, can lead to overcommitment, burnout, and a career trajectory misaligned with your authentic aspirations. The truth is, every "Yes" is a commitment of your time, energy, and resources, and it's essential to discern which commitments truly align with your career objectives and support your personal wellbeing.


Saying "No" is an act of empowerment. It signifies a strong sense of self-awareness—knowing your limits, understanding your goals, and recognising what serves your growth and what doesn't.

Here are several ways in which saying "No" can positively impact your career:

  1. Promotes Work-Life Balance: Setting boundaries by saying "No" to excessive work demands helps maintain a healthy work-life balance, preventing burnout and ensuring you remain productive and engaged in your work.
  2. Fosters Professional Growth: By saying "No" to tasks or projects that don't align with your career path, you free up time and energy to pursue opportunities that do, fostering more meaningful professional growth.
  3. Builds Respect and Credibility: Asserting boundaries through thoughtful refusal demonstrates confidence and self-respect. It shows you value your time and contributions, and can earn you respect from peers and your manager (even if it takes a while to adjust).
  4. Enhances Decision-Making Skills: The act of saying "No" requires you to evaluate opportunities and make decisions based on your career goals, values, and priorities, enhancing your strategic decision-making skills.
  5. Leads to More Fulfilling Opportunities: When you're not bogged down by commitments that don't serve your objectives, you're more open and available when truly valuable opportunities come your way.


Saying "No" can be challenging, especially in a culture that equates busyness with productivity and success. Here are a few strategies to help you say "No" effectively:

  1. Be Clear and Direct: Communicate your "No" clearly and without ambiguity. You don't need to offer an elaborate justification, but a simple explanation can help maintain good relationships.
  2. Offer Alternatives: If possible, offer an alternative solution or suggest someone else who might be better suited for the request. This shows you're still supportive and helpful, even if you can't take on the task.
  3. Practice Empathy: Deliver your "No" with empathy and respect, acknowledging the requester's needs while staying firm on your boundaries.
  4. Reflect Before You Respond: If possible, take some time to consider the request before responding. This allows you to evaluate it against your priorities and respond in a way that aligns with your goals.


Navigating requests from your boss, especially when you're already overwhelmed with work, requires tact and clear communication. Here are a few examples of how to say "No" or negotiate workload in such situations:

  1. Direct and Honest: "I understand the importance of this new project, but I'm currently at capacity with [specific tasks/projects]. Can we discuss prioritisation of my tasks to ensure high-quality output across the board?"
  2. Seeking Solutions Together: "I'm really committed to delivering on our current projects, and I want to ensure the highest standards are maintained. Given my current workload, adding this task might stretch me too thin. Can we look at our team's capacity and maybe redistribute some tasks to accommodate this new priority?"
  3. Offering Alternatives: "I recognise the urgency of this project, but given my existing deadlines, I'm concerned about overcommitting. Is there a possibility to extend the timeline, or could [colleague's name] start on this, and I can provide support as soon as I wrap up my current tasks?"
  4. Request for Delegation: "I'm currently focused on [current project/task] which is critical to [specific goal/result]. If this new request is urgent, do you think we could delegate some of my other tasks to ensure all projects are managed effectively?"
  5. Transparent Prioritisation: "Given my current projects, including [briefly list major tasks/projects], I won't be able to take on [new task] without affecting the quality or timelines of these projects. Can we discuss which tasks are most critical and perhaps adjust timelines or delegate some work?"

These examples show respect for the boss's request while clearly communicating your current workload and seeking a collaborative approach to problem-solving. The key is to maintain open communication and work together to find a solution that ensures the success of the team and the projects at hand.

In the grand scheme of your career, saying "No" isn’t about shutting down opportunities; it's about making strategic choices that align with your most authentic self and your highest aspirations. It's a testament to your strength, your self-respect, and your commitment to cultivating a career that's not just successful on the outside, but deeply fulfilling on the inside. Remember, each time you say "No" to something that doesn't serve you, you're saying "Yes" to your wellbeing and your path to true empowerment.


By Megan Dalla-Camina, Women Rising Founder & CEO

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