How to Say ‘No’ to the Boss without Getting Fired

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Essentially, your boss’s job is to maximize your productivity in both the short-term and long-term.

While this may be harsh to hear, it doesn’t make it any less true. This reality can lead to superiors asking workers to go beyond one’s capabilities, putting employees in a tough position. Do you say ‘yes’ and jeopardize your emotional wellbeing? Or do you say ‘no’ to your boss and endanger your standing within the company?

There are ways in which you can turn down your superior’s requests without compromising your position.

1) Examine your boss’s objectives and tactfully explain why assigning you to the task may undermine his or her own goals. For example, let’s say your superior just asked you to perform a brand new task with which you’re unfamiliar which, for discussion’s sake, we shall call “entering information into the Wizard Database.” A fair response would be “I would be happy to enter information into the Wizard Database. However, I’ve never worked with that particular technology before, so I am concerned that I may not be able to accurately master the program by the given deadline. Is there someone who could get me started or double-check my progress?”

Notice that, in this scenario, you didn’t flat out say ‘no’ to your boss. However, you were able to voice your apprehensions regardless. This answer demonstrates willingness and even offers solutions, but simultaneously clues your boss into the additional resources that will be necessary for you to complete the assignment. Therefore, your superior is presented the choice of either putting someone else on the task; providing you with supplementary aid; or ignoring the consequences that you showed the due diligence to warn him or her about.

2) If it’s a matter of not having enough time, ask your boss to clarify priorities. Similar to the above, this approach is not directly telling your boss ‘no’ but, instead, is asking him or her to either reconsider or accept the consequences. You could say “I can absolutely enter information into the Wizard Database before Thursday. In order to get it done in time, should I push back the delivery date of the Dragon Report?”

3) Instead of saying ‘no’ to your boss, provide an alternative. Not every suggestion your manager gives you is going to be brilliant. Sometimes, bosses can be downright wrong. Of course, if you point out your superior’s own illogic to him or her, this could backfire and sour relations. So, instead of saying ‘I refuse to do your stupid idea,’ consider asking follow-up questions to poke holes in the provided approach. Another option is to suggest an alternative to the boss. For example, “I can absolutely manually enter information into the Wizard Database. However, I heard of this program, the Wizard Finder, which will upload the contents automatically. Would you mind if I gave it a try?”

4) Offer a compromise if the request interferes with your personal life. Remember, there’s a very limited amount of times you can blame “I have to meet my girlfriend’s parents for the first time” for not staying late. If you find an excuse for every night of the week, you’ll soon find yourself job hunting. Instead of simply offering your boss a ‘no,’ follow-up with a solution. For example, “I’m so sorry, I would normally stay late to work on entering information into the Wizard Database, but I have important dinner plans. Could I talk to other members of the team about potentially taking projects off their hands so they could be freed up to do this instead?”

5) Let your boss know your limits. An unhappy or overly stressed employee isn’t productive in the long-run. Therefore, if you are at your physical, mental or emotional limits, clue your boss in. For example, “I’ve been staying late every night to complete my other work. I’m worried that, if I take on this extra assignment, the lack of sleep may compromise the quality of this and other projects.” This tactic only works if you are outperforming your coworkers and are legitimately at your limits. If others are proving that the extra workload is possible, or you’re routinely emailing funny memes to the office but are complaining about the requested assignment, your arguments will be regarded as being rooted in laziness.

On a final note, demonstrate willingness to go above and beyond in the workplace so, when you say ‘no’ for legitimate reasons, it will be both effective and well-received.

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