If you can’t take on a project because you’re too busy, be prepared to explain in detail what’s on your plate.
“You definitely want to be able to support [that reason] by being able to share where your time is being spent,” Woods says.
Try something along the lines of: “That sounds like a great project, and I’d love to work on it. However, I’m currently working on X, Y and Z, which are due by such-and-such date. With those deadlines on the horizon, I won’t be able to give this project the attention and energy it deserves.”
According to Woods, this response opens the door to another benefit: “When you say no in that way, you’re also giving your boss the opportunity to come back and maybe help you prioritize differently.”
Lacking the right skills for a project is a complicated issue. On the one hand, you might be setting yourself up for failure. On the other, you might step aside only to watch a colleague shine where you couldn’t. (Ouch.) Neither of these is a comfortable situation.
The good news? There’s value in sometimes getting uncomfortable. Maybe your situation is an opportunity to upskill and grow. Maybe it’s a chance to be vulnerable by admitting you don’t have the right skills for the task. Being able to admit to the latter speaks to an innate confidence that you have other skills that make you valuable.
When you do have to decline because someone could do a better job than you, be graceful about it. Some good ways to say no are:
Saying no is like exercising a muscle. Some people go to the “no” gym daily; others think about it on the way to the “yes” store for doughnuts.
Like physical exercise, however, saying no judiciously and graciously can help you become a stronger communicator. It can make you feel more empowered as an employee and a person. You learn to set and maintain boundaries, and you become more comfortable in uncomfortable situations (which means you are less likely to say yes and regret it later).
“A lot of times people don’t say no because they’re avoiding what could be a difficult situation,” Woods says. Don’t avoid it. Be honest and transparent instead.
If you’re just getting started in a new job — or with a new outlook on the power of no — Woods has one more tip to consider. Try asking your manager how you can best have that tough conversation.
Woods suggests the following prompt: “I’m curious: If you ever asked me to do something that I wasn’t comfortable doing or didn’t feel I had a strong enough skill set to do, how could I let you know? What would work best for you?”
Honesty and transparent conversation, after all, is the cornerstone of an effective no. It also just happens to be pretty effective at building trust and a positive working relationship. And that’s something you can enthusiastically say yes to.