Career Advice

When It’s OK To Say ‘No’ To Your Boss

For many of us saying no is hard to do. When it’s saying it to our boss, it can be downright impossible.  But there are situations that merit a no. How you go about it, however, can make or break your relationship with your supervisor.

“It depends on the boss,” when it comes to saying no, says Pamela Skillings, co-founder of Skillful Communications. “You have to know what kind of boss you are dealing with.”

Some bosses don’t want anyone disputing their power while others are more willing to listen to suggestions. When dealing with the power wielding ones, Skillings says its best to let the boss think he or she came up with the change of plan.

The types of scenarios also matter. Here’s a look at when, and when not, to say no to your boss.

When Your Are Getting Taken Advantage Of

At some point in your career working long hours and taking on work that’s not in the job description will undoubtedly be part of the job. But when your boss is asking you to work late every night and come in on the weekends all the time, it may be situation where you have to put your foot down and say no.

If the boss is blatantly taking advantage of you then a boundary needs to be drawn, says Skillings. “If you are working late every night and it’s not an emergency situation and is becoming a habit, it’s not something you want to allow,” she says.  Skillings says to say no at least one night to make it clear you aren’t going to do it all the time.

Doing Your Bosses Errands

Unless you are a personal assistant, doing errands for your boss is a situation where you may want to say no. If you like to get out of the office to pick out a birthday present or get coffee from Starbucks that’s one thing, but if it takes you away from your work or isn’t something you signed on to do then a  no is warranted, says Patricia H. Lenkov, executive vice president of Agility Executive Search.  Lenkov says simply saying no could upset the boss, but being more tactful and presenting your no in a way that will help the boss should work.  “Explain that the truth is if you do this, you won’t be able to do this more important work for your boss,” says Lenkov.

When the Impossible is Expected

Tight deadlines are pretty much the norm at many companies but when you are given a timetable that cannot be realistically met or a workload that is impossible to complete on your own, that may be the time to say no or ask for help. Again, don’t just say no, but explain to your boss that it’s not a realistic deadline and that you’ll need more time to complete the workload. That doesn’t mean you should leave the office at five every day, but if you are putting in the hours, show your boss how much you’ve done and provide an alternative time frame to get the rest of the work completed, says Skillings.

Even if you want to say no, there are situations that you should refrain from saying no. The main one: when you are asked to be a team player.

Your job may be managing the books for your firm, but a big marketing campaign is coming up so you are asked to pitch in with helping with that project. Sure, it’s not what you were hired for, but saying no will reflect negatively on you. According to Skillings, you’ll most likely appear stubborn and lacking the team player mentality. If it’s something that is truly out of your scope or you really don’t have the time to do it, Skillings says then it’s ok to express your reservations. “It’s important to show them there’s a trade off,” says Skillings.

No for the Heck of it

Saying no for the sake of no is probably one of the most serious mistakes you can make, especially in this job environment where there are twenty people lined up waiting for your job. If you say no to exercise your control, it can be perceived as insubordination, says Lenkov. “You have to be mindful of the environment we are living in,” says Lenkov. “There has to be a good reason to say no.”