photo of the word "no" spraypainted on a concrete pillar

cc-by Marc Falardeau on flickr

Your plate is full. You’re just keeping up. That’s precisely when a co-worker or boss comes to you with a new project, right? Let’s be honest: sometimes you just need to say no. How does one say no tactfully but firmly, without burning bridges or causing drama in the workplace?

What’s the Time Commitment?
This is the first question to ask. What, exactly, is being asked of you and how long will it take? If you could bang it out in a few minutes or an hour, maybe it’s do-able. If you’re signing up for months of committee meetings…maybe not. Before you say no, be clear on what is being asked of you and simply ask how long they expect it to take.

It’s fine to say no, but you may want to offer an alternative or a counter-offer. Here are some examples:

  • Yes, but I’ll have to give up something else…
  • Yes, but it will have to go to the bottom of my list…
  • Yes, but I can only do this portion of it…
  • Yes, but I will need overtime pay to do it…
  • Yes, but I will need a favor in return…
  • No, but I will find someone else to do it for you…

Know when to say yes!
Seize opportunities to grow, to learn, and to show off your skills! This very well might be an inconvenient time for you, but ask yourself what you get in return. You might really impress someone and have their attention for a raise or promotion in the future. You might really be interested in the project and know you have a lot to offer. You could see it as an opportunity to learn something new, and new skills are rarely a waste of time or effort.

Bosses: let your co-workers say no!
Be reasonable with workloads. Part-time staff, in particular, are often stretched incredibly thin. All of these tips apply to you. Be clear on the time commitment you are requesting, and be willing to schedule flexibly to make it possible. Pay for extra time on the clock to accomplish the task. Offer a reasonable compromise or let your co-worker counter-offer. And lastly, do push for a yes when you know it is a great opportunity for the person you asked, but be as flexible as possible. Be willing to take on something extra yourself in order for your co-worker to be able to seize an opportunity.



Adult Services Coordinator at the Plymouth District Library with a mild obsession for collection quality. Ok, maybe not so mild. Find me on Twitter at @hhibner and over at Awful Library Books (!

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. Leave the Library on Time | Library Lost & Found - November 13, 2014

    […] can lead to staying just a little later at the end of every shift to get that last email sent, and never saying “no” to a request from a […]

  2. Beyond Shhh: Finding an Effective Library Voice | Library Lost & Found - November 26, 2014

    […] the past, we covered how to say no and public speaking skills (all librarians need them!). Now, it’s time to think about the […]

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