As team leaders, we are responsible for managing our team’s workload, assigning the right people to the right tasks, creating efficiencies, and meeting deadlines. And no matter how well we plan, there will be time we get a request from a boss, coworker, or direct report that will throw off our plans.

Our first reaction might be to say no. However, my advice is always to say yes.

By saying yes, we communicate to the requestor that we are a team player and willing to support the organization’s mission. I also found that expanding my team’s responsibilities led to better opportunities for myself and my team.

Yet – sometimes saying yes will not be the best decision for your team. So how do you say yes, while saying no? Over the years, I have developed strategies that help me continue to say yes, but on terms that fit in with my obligations.

Timing: As a manager, we control our team’s workload, including when things are accomplished. When we receive a request to meet our deadlines, we decide the priority level and shift our workload accordingly. Our response will sound like this, “Yes, we can handle it. I should be able to complete it by this date. Will that work for you?”

Resource: At times, you may not have the resources needed to handle the request. If this is the case, negotiate for additional resources or ask to shift responsibilities to another team. Our response will sound like this, “Yes, we can handle it if someone could manage part X of the project,” or “Yes, we can handle it, if Team Y did this part.”

Priorities: Priorities shift, especially when your boss or the big boss asks you to take on additional responsibilities. You definitely want to say yes, but you also know that you will not meet other expectations. In this case, discuss with your boss to clarify expectations and priority level. The other avenue open to you is to see if you can break down the request into smaller goals and get clarity on the priority of each stage.

“Is it okay to say no?”


How did reading “no” make you feel? Did you say, “John, you are wrong!” Did you get annoyed with me?

We have to understand the impact of our words on our coworkers and do our best to build relationships that we can count on. So ask again.

“Is it okay to say no?”


There will be times when no is the best answer. Suppose the ask is not legal, within scope, or outside your area of expertise. In that case, it is best to say no and explain to the requestor why you have to say no in this particular case.

Tell us in the comments – when did you say no, when you should have said yes. What were the long-term consequences?

Speaker | Author | Business Advisor | Coach | CEO

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