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Workplace Communication: Another Way to Say “No”

Communication in the workplace is often the hardest skills to develop and improve upon. One of the biggest challenges to workplace communication is learning to say “no.”

Do you often have co-workers that have defaulted to asking you to help them in any way? The activities could range from ordering more paper to helping them with an error in the timesheet. In a way, it can be a compliment and testament to your reliability and general knowledgeability. However, these unexpected and on-the-spot requests for help can be mentally draining and can impact your productivity. If you’re also around the same position level, why are they asking you instead of taking time to do it themselves? What kind of feedback do they need? Here’s how to turn it into a constructive teaching moment.

Your co-workers should not rely on you to answer every question that comes up – it’s both unfair to them and to you. They lose the opportunity to discover what resources could help them solve this issue. For you, it adds another unexpected item on your to-do list and could derail your productivity. In this day and age of instant messaging through business software, it is very easy to ask someone right away when you encounter a problem.

I tend to be a “yes” person. Often, I’ve heard the advice, “Learn to say ‘no,’ otherwise they’ll overload you.” Now instead of outright saying “no,” I’m learning the alternative phrase “Let me show you how I do it, so next time you can try it out.” It rephrases this into a teaching moment. It allows you to give them the guidance and tools to do the activity next time, while allowing them to rely on you less for every little item.

This quote is applicable to the situation above: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

When a coworker asks you for help, remember to:

  • Be friendly
  • Be respectful
  • Be polite
  • Be confident

To maintain a positive working relationship instead of a negative one, remember to provide an explanation why you cannot help them at this time. An explanation goes a long way to help the co-worker empathize with why you cannot help them at this moment.

Those in supervisory roles may find the above advice difficult to incorporate. There is a fine line between being a resource for your employees and helping them develop their own skills sets. To ensure employees only go to leadership if they cannot figure it out for themselves, supervisors have to learn to phrase the question back to them and walk them through their thinking.

With the right workplace communication, you can learn to say “no” in the most constructive way.

For more reading on workplace communication and learning to say “no,” check out these articles:

How to Say No

How to Say No to Office Housework

Want to Truly Help Your Team? Stop Rescuing Them!

Elaine Nghiem is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Contributor posts, click here.

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Profile Photo Steph Drahozal

“Let me show you how I do it, so next time you can try it out” is such a perfect phrase! Still helping your colleague out while also “teaching them how to fish” and taking a load off your plate!