Say Yes Too Much? (Here's How Not To Get Taken Advantage Of At Work)

Say Yes Too Much? (Here’s How Not To Get Taken Advantage Of At Work)

how to say no at work

Have you ever had people ask you to do something reasonable, and then when you say yes, keep piling on requests?

Or, maybe someone doesn’t ask at all, they just dump some extra work on your desk with a quick: “I know you don’t mind!” as they sashay off?

Either way, you are left wondering: “Do I say YES too much?”


No fun.

I wrote a post last week on how to deal with difficult people in your office (and life!), and got this interesting question in return:

What are your thoughts of knowing when to be nice, and when to stand your ground and not be nice?

I know many folks in this community probably struggle with this very problem, so I want to address it head on.  There’s nothing worse than feeling resentment, frustration, or feeling like a fool because you know that the people around you are taking advantage of your good nature.

First off, let’s clear up some confusion

I think many of us want to be liked, and we default into people pleasing mode because we know that our coworkers want to work with people they like.

We want to be those people :).

But there’s a difference between being liked because you are friendly and kind at work, and being nice to the point where it hurts you.

The first one is all about having some basic listening skills, empathy, understanding, and confidence in yourself.  You listen when people talk, you have empathy when they struggle, you keep your perspective on what’s happening in the office, and you stay upbeat as much as you can.

Everyone benefits when we try and practice kindness at the office (and in life!). 

The second one often is rooted in fear, or a lack of confidence in yourself. Here’s what I mean by that: You say yes (instead of saying no), because you don’t want to offend someone. You don’t want to “be the bad guy” you don’t want to be seen as “not a team player” or “not pulling your weight.”  You are worried that if you do, maybe that person won’t like you. Or won’t respect you. Or a million other things.

So you say yes.

And then you say it again.

And again. Basically, you say yes too much.

People become used to you saying yes, so they continue to ask for favors or make assumptions. And you continue to get anxious or upset about it.


That’s not a way to be happy long-term, and you don’t have to chose that path.  People who say yes a lot tend to think that they are being likeable and kind.  But in reality, they are just mostly afraid.

So let’s be clear: You can be likeable and kind WITHOUT having to say yes all the time. People will still think you are nice (even when you say no).


First, you have to decide your code

I find it’s much easier to say no with confidence when you start to think about your yes code. Note: I’m assuming that you are saying yes to more than things that are already in your job description :). 

What I mean by that is simple: First off, if you are a habitual “yeser” please ask yourself WHY. Why are you saying yes in each major situation?

Sometimes we say yes because we genuinely have the time and energy to help. 

Sometimes we say yes because we want to step up and take on extra work, or because we know it’s good for our careers in some way.

Sometimes we say yes in order to learn a new skill or have a new experience.

Sometimes we say yes because we *believe* that we can’t say no.

Sometimes we say yes because we *think* it’s expected.

Sometimes we say yes simply out of habit, or because we are worried about something.

I want you to look at the big reasons why you most often say yes, and then question them.

I guarantee that you’ll find some of the yeses are coming from a place of habit or worry, rather than necessity.

Once you realize why you are saying yes to certain things or situations, then you can decide what your code will be moving forwards.

So, for instance: You might decide your new yes code is this:

I will only say yes to things that give me a new experience or further my career skills.


I will only say yes if I have the time, if I don’t have the time I will say no or ask to drop something else before I say yes.

or even

I will say yes to anything work-related that doesn’t make me have to work the weekends (and I will say no to any personal stuff that is during the week).

It can be anything that works for you!  So, really think on what makes you comfortable, comes from a place of confidence (rather than worry or anxiety), and build a code around it.

This will help you to start to stand your ground in the future.


But, what if you are breathing into a paper bag right now, terrified about how to say “no” to people who are used to hearing the word “yes” from you?

No worries.

Here’s how to say no in a kind and gentle way, so that *almost* everyone is happy (we can’t promise 100% happiness, because some people are just … challenging :)).

First off, acknowledge the request.  “I’m flattered Mrs. Boss that you are asking me to tackle this project.”  Acknowledging someone’s request makes them feel heard and understood, and a little extra flattery is something 99.9% of people enjoy.

Then, state your reason for saying no: “However, I promised myself that I would only take on new projects like this one if I was able to delegate something else – otherwise I know something will be left undone.  So, I have to say no unless I can drop xyz.”

Stating your reason shows you are not just saying no randomly – your thoughtfulness in response shows you are taking their request seriously.

“Thank you busy-bee coworker for asking me to stay late and help you [again].  I’m honored that you keep coming to me for advice.  But, I’ve got to say no tonight. I promised myself that I wouldn’t take on any extra work this week so I can catch up on some things that need my attention.”  Or “So I can catch up on my own work. I’m sure you understand.”

Finally, feel free to offer a suggestion or an idea if it makes sense, to take the sting out of saying no: “I can’t help you, but have you asked Sheila? She was looking to learn that skill/She was looking to have more hours on this project.” Or “I can’t help you, but have you looked at xyz article? It should get you thinking.”

So, if we put it all together in another way, it might look like this: “Oh, I’d love to help you with collating the files tonight after hours, but unfortunately, I’m swamped so I can’t tonight. But definitely talk to Jeff about how to use the copy machine to work faster, he’s a wizard at this kind of thing.”


What if you can’t say no?

There are some companies out there where your boss “asks” you things and everyone understands that it’s a demand, not a request.

We’ve all been in situations where you can’t say no because your job is at risk, the cost of saying no is too high, or another legitimate reason.

So here’s my advice: This should happen RARELY. Assuming you are good at your job (and you are here, so I know you are both smart and capable), you shouldn’t be in a situation where people feel comfortable taking advantage of you and your work with no recourse.

If you are in a job like that, now is the time to start finding something else.  (Here’s a great link to some awesome job search articles guaranteed to help you).

If once in a blue moon your boss sidles up to you and asks you to go WAY beyond what’s in your title or job description and you know you can’t say no – it happens.

If once a week it happens, think hard about staying in that job, okay?


Feeling REALLY stuck at work right now?

Then you absolutely need to grab my FREE Job UNstuck kit right over here. 

It’s three days of magical thinking and exercises to get you unstuck (less than 10 minutes a day), so that you get out of your rut and into work you love.  Click here to grab it!