How to Say No to Taking on More Work

Sometimes you have too much on your plate or you’re just not interested in taking on a project you’ve been asked to work on. You might not have a choice in the matter, but if you do, how do you turn down the opportunity in a way that won’t offend the person offering? How can you avoid being labeled “not a team player” or “difficult to work with”?


Assess the request

Before you respond with a knee-jerk “no,” you need to assessing the request first by determining how “interesting, engaging, and exciting the opportunity is,” and then by figuring out whether it’s feasible for you to help.

“Don’t say no until you’re sure you need to.” The assessment ought not be a solo endeavor, adds Weeks. You need to provide the person who’s making the request — be it a client, a coworker, or your manager — with “context” about your workload so he can “help you evaluate the scale and scope” of what he’s asking. You need to know, for instance, “Is this a small thing that won’t take too long? Or is it a longer-term project? And how important is it?” You need to let them know, how much your is going to cost the other person and the time that can take for you.


Be straightforward

If you realize you have neither the desire nor the bandwidth to help, and, therefore, need to turn down the request, be honest and up front about your reasons. If you’re challenged, stay steady, clear, and on message. Describe your workload and the by saying something like, “I would be unable to do a good a job on your project and my other work would suffer.”




Offer a lifeline

To maintain a good relationship with the person you’re turning down, it’s critical to “acknowledge the other side,”. Be empathetic. Be compassionate.  The other person might not be happy with your answer, but he will be able to tolerate it.” Dillon suggests offering a lifeline by asking if there “are small ways you can be helpful” to the project. Perhaps you can attend brainstorming sessions, read first drafts, or simply serve as a sounding board. Even in saying no. If you’re unable to offer small favors, be sure to keep workplace optics in mind. “If you’re saying you’re too busy to help, don’t cut out early and don’t be seen taking long, chatty breaks at the water cooler.”


Principles to Remember


  • Evaluate whether you have the desire and the bandwidth to help with the request and ask if priorities can be shifted or trade-offs made.
  • Show a willingness to pitch in by inquiring if there are small ways you can be helpful to the project.
  • Practice saying no out loud — eventually it will become easier.



  • Use a harsh or hesitant tone, and don’t be overly polite either. Instead, strive for a steady and clear no.
  • Hold back the real reason you’re saying no. To limit frustration, give reasons with good weight up front.
  • Distort your message or act tentatively because you’re trying to keep your colleague happy. Be honest and make sure your no is understood.