How do I refuse when someone processes proposals?

Saying no: 4 tips + more than 30 formulations

Nice, helpful colleagues who never say no - everyone likes them. Because they make life easier. Above all, your own. Those who are only too willing to give their help to others and cannot say no, pay a high price for it: Overwork, getting bogged down and a higher error rate are the smallest consequences. In addition, the yes-men and cheap helpers are even less respected. It is the law of supply and demand: what is easy to get is automatically of less value. All the more important that you can refuse. We'll show you how to learn to say no and how to say "yes" to "no" more often ...

➠ Content: This is what awaits you

➠ Content: This is what awaits you

Saying no: beware of the courtesy trap!

The “no” is increasingly becoming a taboo word in the workplace. Those who do not comply with a request must fear being labeled as lazy because they are not ready to do a little more. Or to be considered unfriendly or even selfish because he or she lets down the office neighbors who urgently need a helping hand. Likewise, nay-sayers are often assumed to be incapable and competent enough at all and seem to be completely overwhelmed with their own tasks.

From this expectation develops many have a real fear of saying “no”. So “Yes” and “Amen” are said diligently. To everything and everyone. Even if your own capacities have long since reached their limits. A mistake that will create some new problems for you.

Who forgets to say "no" ...

  • is being exploited more and more.
  • cannot prevail.
  • tries to please everyone.
  • becomes dependent on the opinion of others.
  • systematically overloads itself.

The phenomenon of not being able to turn down a request at work, has long had a relevant name in literature. The technical term for not being able to say no: "Courtesy trap". Once caught up in it, small favors quickly become the workload of a veritable part-time job

7 reasons why you can't say no

If someone cannot say no, it is often for deeper psychological reasons. The most common causes include anxiety. But also other reasons, such as ...

  • Those who cannot say no feel flattered
    You are impressed by the fact that they ask you. You feel valued, important, central. In short: you mutate into helpers, rescuers and advisers. A brief burst of power wafts around your ego. They love this feeling and therefore always say “yes”. Perhaps that was the supplicant's insidious plan. The French playwright Molière already knew that “even the brightest will be pissed off by flattery”.
  • Anyone who cannot say no suffers from helper syndrome
    Such people constantly strive to feel needed. Either one's own irreplaceability should be demonstrated or it is an attempt to compensate for feelings of inferiority. The helper syndrome only leads to massive stress or even total exhaustion and burnout. Short-term recognition leads to a downward spiral: more favors, less time, poorer performance, declining recognition.
  • Those who cannot say no are afraid of rejection
    Quite a few people worry that if they refuse a request, it will put a lasting strain on the relationship. You may also feel guilty because you once learned that help shouldn't be refused. Anyone who does it anyway is considered selfish or heartless in their eyes. But the question is: who is more selfish - the one who turns down a request - or the one who makes their sympathies dependent on who's dancing to their tune?
  • Those who cannot say no are afraid of missing out
    Have a coffee with colleagues, although three calls still urgently need to be made. Do not refuse the invitation to an after-work beer, although the body has long signaled a threatening lack of sleep. Just be there and not miss anything - even if there will still be plenty of opportunities for coffee. You shouldn't always isolate yourself, but an occasional no is perfectly fine.
  • Those who cannot say no fear the consequences
    Especially if the boss is behind the request. In fact, in many cases it is not advisable to turn down his wishes. Disappointed bosses don't promote. But also superiors have to learn when to stop. The fear of rejection or, in general, of the disappointment and reaction of others is understandable, but it is extremely important to be able to deal with it. Otherwise you will be vulnerable to selfish parasites.
  • Those who cannot say no feel responsible
    For the office atmosphere in general and the colleague's need for relief and personal happiness in particular. They think: "The poor man: he has been working on the project for five weeks, he has to present it this afternoon - and what he has is anything but ready to be said." but it is not your responsibility. The decisive factor should be whether you have the time and energy - or whether you would suffer from the help yourself.
  • Those who cannot say no are comparing themselves
    Everyone has a different workload. However, those who permanently compare themselves with others will soon succumb to the illusion of having to create the same thing. You should and want to get the best out of yourself - so far, so good. But please don't add the best of your colleague as well. Nothing puts people under more pressure than trying to constantly meet the demands of others.

So you have to be able to say no

The most important key to being able to say no better in the future is a healthy self-esteem. By strengthening your self-confidence, you are also strengthening your defenses against excessive insolence.

Who accepts himself (and thus has enough self-love and self-respect), it is also easier for him to say no. Also at the risk of others rejecting you or reacting with offense and sniffling.

Just because you turn down a request doesn't make you any less lovable. That is a mistake! Rather, it is correct: Those who learn to say no, gain greater freedom and reveal mental strength. And for that alone it is worth saying no more often.

TIP: In the US it is common to decline the first offer with a “no”. Because the first offer is rarely the best. Since every negotiation starts with a “no”, a real conversation develops on an equal footing and mutual respect grows.

Tips: Here's How to Say No

The good news: You can learn to say no. It won't be easy for you from the start, but with a few tips you will get better and better at it and manage to say no more often:

  • Don't answer right away
    Before you answer, think about whether you really want to say yes. Take the time to consider whether you want to comply or say no. It is completely legitimate if you do not immediately give a definitive answer, and take some time to comment on it.
  • Question your motivation
    Why do you want to say yes? Do you really want to help - and are you able to do this - or are the causes and fears mentioned above behind it? When you self-critically question your motivation, you can more easily see when to say no.
  • Clarify your personal consequences
    Your counterpart is happy to have your approval, but what are the consequences for you if you don't say no? Maybe you have to work longer, are completely exhausted from the extra workload, are stressed or even have to cancel or reschedule appointments yourself. If the effort is too much, say no.
  • Don't make yourself feel guilty
    Saying no is not something to be ashamed of, nor is it a reason to feel guilty. You are not obliged to rush to the rescue immediately, to push your own limits and to say yes at any cost. If the other person wants to make you feel guilty, this is all the more a reason to say no.

Learning to say no: formulations and examples

If you want to decline, the next question arises: How can I say no? A difficult topic, especially when working with colleagues, customers or the boss. The following applies to everyone: teach them how to discharge them gently and gently. You're not supposed to bypass the bush, you're not doing yourself a favor with a wishy-washy rebuff. But neither should you become hurtful and disrespectful. To help you, we have put together numerous examples and formulations of how you can say no.

TIP: NEVER say "Yes, but ...". While “yes” opens the other person's heart, the “but” closes it again. Instead, try to find euphemisms for the BUT, for example “at the same time”: “Yes, of course we can go your way. At the same time there is this alternative ... "

How do you say no to the boss?

Shutting down a boss is tricky ground. Especially when the person is in a bad mood, is in a bad mood or is threatened with layoffs. A respectful tone, paired with a subtle evasive strategy, is essential for this mission. Or to put it another way: The correct answer to the boss always begins with the phrase: "Yes, but ..."

Remain polite at all timesno matter how outrageous the request was. Never raise your voice (appears aggressive) and do not play offended (appears infantile). A brief explanation is also recommended. Bosses don't just want to be dumped, they want to be informed. An absolute no-go: you should never lie to your superiors if you justify your "no"! Sooner or later something like this will come out and your reputation will be lost. Possible strategies for saying no to the boss include:

Offer alternatives

  • “Unfortunately, I don't have the time to attend the presentation later. But I could help to prepare the slides afterwards. "
  • “I absolutely have to get this thing ready for the customer beforehand. But tomorrow I could take care of it. If it's in a hurry, Klaus may just have some time ... "
  • “Unfortunately I can't do that anymore today. When the project is finished, I could go straight to it. "

Make the consequences clear

  • “Thank you for placing so much trust in me. But I already have several ongoing projects that I need to take care of. If I also take on this task, the deadline for project X will inevitably be postponed. "
  • "I am happy to do it, but you know that I am not the most qualified person on the team for it ?!"


  • “I'm so busy at the moment that I couldn't give this project the attention it deserves. That would damage the result. "
  • "I feel very uncomfortable about this."
  • "I cannot reconcile that with my conscience."

Remember agreements

  • “We had agreed at the time that the other project would have priority. Can you briefly explain to me why this is different now? "
  • “They gave me off for this afternoon. In the meantime I have a couple of important appointments there that I can no longer cancel. "
  • "Last time we talked about the fact that I couldn't manage such a large amount of additional work in terms of time."

Ask for help

  • "You know, I'm also currently working on X and Y. To be able to do everything well, I still need support, otherwise it won't work."
  • "Of course I am happy to help, but I can hardly do it alone in that time."

How can you say no to customers?

A similar approach is recommended for customers. The problem: They sometimes have the habit of being clearly less understanding and ruthless. Especially if you feel like royalty because you contribute a large part of your sales. With such types, a “yes” can sometimes be completely unavoidable. But you can at least try to channel future inquiries as a precaution by ...

Plan in advance together

  • “I understand your concern. So that there are no further bottlenecks, we should find an early solution. "
  • "How can we improve our cooperation in order to prevent something like this from happening again in the future?"

Set a deadline

  • “I am very happy to take care of it. Then you have to give me time to do this by the end of the week. "
  • “I'll do it right away, but only if it doesn't take longer than an hour. Then I have another important appointment. "
  • “If there is no alternative, I will initiate that. However, it will take some time - so do not expect a result until Friday at the earliest. "

Call in a favor

  • “I'll try what I can do. But then you also owe me something if we ever get into trouble. "
  • "I hope you will meet me when I take care of it."

How do you say no to colleagues?

Things are a little different with colleagues. If you fill your desk with additional work over and over again, you have a little more room to react. Here, too, you shouldn't vent your anger unchecked and stumble away. Check any inquiries carefully. When in doubt, say that you feel surprised or flattered and ask for some time to think it over as described in the tips above.

Justify your rejection calmly face the negative consequences - even if you owe no justification for saying no. However, this makes it easier for the other person to accept your rejection. The following examples can also help:

Encourage understanding

  • “I understand your difficult situation, but I can't spare a minute right now. Unfortunately, I'm stuck deep in my projects myself. "
  • “You will be disappointed, but unfortunately I cannot do it this time. I hope you understand that I don't have any free capacities at the moment. "
  • "I find the offer very flattering, but frankly I have other plans."

Remain consistent

  • "I feel flattered, but the weekends belong to my family."
  • “I already promised my help to someone else earlier. That's why I can't take on any more. "
  • "I'm happy to help - but not with this project."
  • "I'm sorry, but I generally don't lend money."

Emphasize responsibility

  • “I can understand that you feel insecure about the task. But I am convinced that you can do it. Try it yourself first, I can always help later. "
  • “I really can't help you there. The boss has given you the task and responsibility. He must have thought something. "
  • “The responsibility for this is yours. If I do that now, we'll both get into trouble. "

Revealing insolence

  • "I don't enjoy this work either - but it's your job!"
  • "I understand it's a chore, but this time it's your turn and you have to take it over."

How can you politely say no?

At work, in particular, you want to say no as politely and professionally as possible. The above examples and formulations are quite suitable, but if you are afraid of stepping on the feet of your counterpart, one thing above all helps: Avoid long explanations and be brief. Like this:

Be brief

  • "No".
  • "Unfortunately this is not possible."
  • "Unfortunately I have to refuse."
  • "This time you are on your own."

To say no: speak in plain language

One thing is important in everything: if you say no, you should speak plainly. It is imperative that you refrain from soothing restrictions such as ...

  • "Please do not be angry…"
  • "I'm really sorry, but ..."
  • "Possibly ..."
  • "Maybe could ..."

These formulations usually arise out of the desire not to hurt the other or to hope that the problem would solve itself. But at the same time they undermine your decision and make it appear less confident.

For the same reason they prohibit themselves Of course, there are also embarrassed and white lies of the type: "That won't work, I've already got this and that before ..." If you really have something else important in mind - fine. But please don't lie. If that comes out, you have gambled away not only your sovereignty, but also your credibility and trust in you.

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May 4, 2021Author: Jochen Mai

Jochen Mai is the founder and editor-in-chief of the career bible. The author of several books lectures at the TH Köln and is a sought-after keynote speaker, coach and consultant.

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