How To Say “No” To Your Boss & Keep Your Job! [5 Tips]

7 min read
Updated: Jul 01, 2021

While you shouldn’t be saying no to your boss often, there are circumstances that call for it. Learn to set boundaries with these five tips.

Many of us are too afraid to say no to the boss when they ask for too much.

If you depend on your job to meet financial needs or for healthcare, it might feel too risky to tell your boss you don’t have the bandwidth to do a task justice.

So, what should you do?

Though it can be intimidating to say no to the person responsible for your paycheck, there are ways to do it without sacrificing your reputation.

Keep reading to learn about why it’s so difficult to say no to your supervisor, and how to do it in a manner that may earn you more respect than you think.


Why Is It So Difficult to Say No to Your Boss?

Understandably, it’s not easy to say no to your boss.


Here are some of the most common reasons.

Fear of Losing Your Job

The most common reason people feel uncomfortable saying no to their boss is that they are afraid of losing their jobs.

If you have solid reasons for turning down an assignment, it’s unlikely that your employer will view your objection negatively.

Fear of Negative Consequences

Frequently, employees are fearful that saying no to their boss’s request will result in negative consequences.

These might include rejected requests for time off, denial of promotions, or being passed up for a raise.

This is why it’s so important to say no to your boss in the right way. We’ll get to that shortly!

Feelings of Obligation

When your boss asks you to do something, you feel obligated to say yes.

However, if you’re not able to complete the task for any number of reasons, it’s better to be honest about it.

Fear of Letting People Down

A major cause of concern when it comes to saying no to your boss is that you’ll let your colleagues down or disappoint them.

But consider this:

  1. Is it worse to take on a task you can’t manage and fail to meet the team’s needs or
  2. Turn down the request and let it pass on to a colleague who has the capacity to do it right?

Five Ways to Say No to Your Boss

Feeling ready to say no to your boss when they ask for too much but aren’t sure how to do it?

Here are the five best ways to turn your boss down without risking your job or losing respect.

1.     Set Boundaries

The best way to avoid being in a sticky situation where you need to confront your boss and say no is to set boundaries before it even becomes an issue.

Boundary Setting Examples:

  • Letting your boss know you aren’t available to work after hours on weeknights
  • Letting your boss know you have weekend obligations

Reasonable boundaries like the ones above will set the tone for what they feel comfortable requesting from you.

If your boss already knows you’re not available at certain times, it won’t shock or offend if you turn down requests that infringe on those terms.

2.     Explain How a Task Would Impact Your Workload

Don’t feel comfortable responding with a flat-out “no”?

Try framing the conversation to focus on how your boss’s request would impact your existing responsibilities.

Informing your boss that taking on the task might delay what’s already on your plate might help them understand where you’re coming from.

3.     Acknowledge the Importance of the Request

Ultimately, you and your boss both want the same thing:

To work toward the success and growth of the organization.

Even if you plan to say no to your boss, it can be helpful to validate the importance of their request first.

Say something like, “I know how urgent this is, and I would have loved to help if I had the capacity.”

A different approach to validation might feel right to you. What matters is that your boss feels your empathy of how important their request is so that you don’t come across as lazy or uninterested.

4.     Find a Way to Say Yes

Sometimes, saying no comes in the form of saying yes (in the way that you can).

Saying yes, even when you’re actually saying no, can look like:

Politely declining while offering to find another colleague with the bandwidth or skill set to complete the task.

Or perhaps you might offer a partial contribution and a plan for how your teammates can help you reach the goal.

5.     It’s All About How You Say It

All too often, it doesn’t matter what you’re saying if you don’t say it the right way.

Consider the timing of your response. If you can wait to have a conversation with your boss and choose a time that isn’t too busy or stressful — that’s ideal.

Word choice is crucial, too. Try to avoid harsh or judgemental words that might cause tension or create the perception that you’re unhappy with your job.

When you do have an honest conversation with your boss, pay attention to your tone. Try to speak with both gentleness and strength, as well as sincerity.

When Should You Say No to Your Boss?

There are right and wrong circumstances under which you should say no to your boss.

These are some examples of when it’s okay to turn your boss down.

When You’re Overwhelmed

When you have a lot on your plate and are already working as hard as you can to handle your existing workload. This is definitely an acceptable time to let your boss know that you can’t take on any more responsibilities.

When You Lack the Right Skills

When you lack the skills necessary to complete an assignment, it’s more beneficial to the team as a whole if you’re honest about that upfront.

You can still be helpful and take initiative, though.

Before you meet with your boss to discuss the task, try to find a qualified colleague to complete it and come prepared to recommend them as an option. This demonstrates initiative and shows that you really do care.

When You’re Just Not Available

If your boss asks you to take on an assignment that conflicts with reasonable personal commitments (or you’ve already requested time off) it’s not out of line to say you’re unable to take it on.

It might be that your boss has forgotten your schedule or time off request, so just be kind and remind them that you aren’t available.

If All Else Fails

Sometimes, even after presenting a solid case for why you don’t feel that you have the capacity for a task, your boss will still insist that you do it.

While this is frustrating and can be stressful, the best way to approach the situation is to stay positive. Then keep your boss informed of the status of a project so that they remain aware of your bandwidth.



Saying no to your boss is not easy. You might be fearful that you’re risking your job or will face other negative consequences from turning them down.

Keep these tips in mind and strive to go about it the right way. That way, you’re likely to earn respect and set a precedent for the future that benefits your relationship with your boss long-term.

[Author Bio]

Adam Marshall is a freelance writer who specializes in all things apartment organization, real estate, and college advice. He currently works with HQ to help them with their online marketing.


Adam Marshall


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