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Five Ways to Say “No” to your Boss

By Pam Fitzgerald, Partner

Your boss thinks it’s a great idea…you know great ideas are piling up on your desk. Your boss asks you to take on an exciting new project…you have enough excitement with your current work load. Your boss suggests a new strategic direction…you’re so busy you don’t know which way is up. How do you say “no”? Here are five key suggestions from the boss’s side of the desk:

1.   You don’t have to answer right away. Ask for time to think.

2.   Choose your timing wisely. Is your boss in an expansive frame of mind or is it a rainy Monday in November, when nobody is feeling chipper?

3.   Begin your sentences with “Yes, but…” Usually a real downer. In this case, the phrase signals agreeably that you don’t agree.

4.   Make the consequences clear. For example, “I certainly could take on this project, but that would mean I would have to limit my hours on X.”

5.   Suggest an alternative option. This might be a good learning opportunity for a less experienced colleague (with your guidance and oversight, of course).

Good bosses appreciate a willingness to take on new challenges and find better ways of accomplishing goals. One test of a great boss is the ability to accept a “no” in the spirit it is offered. Great employees know how to transform that “no” into a productive “yes!”