Do you know this?

A colleague asks you to take over a task or do something. You are not responsible for it. Besides, you have more than enough to do yourself. But you don’t want to be seen as unfriendly or unhelpful. Or even offend the other person(s). So you agree and take on the task, even though you would much rather say “no”.

So how can you say “no” appreciatively and respectfully? After all, it is not about refusing the person but about refusing a person’s request. So here are my top 3 recommendations.

1. My need – your need

The first step is to become aware of your own needs. After all, fulfilling another person’s request would mean putting that person’s need (for support) above your own. Many people negate their own needs or do not feel it is okay to give priority to their own needs. Why is that? Why should you put the needs of the other person(s) above your own? Everyone has needs, and you have the right to stand by your own needs – that does not make you a bad person.

2. Soft to people – hard to facts

There are many different ways to say “no”. The form makes all the difference. It can be helpful to accept the other person’s needs in principle. A possible formulation could be: “I can understand that you want to give up this task. And then communicate your own need, e.g. “I can’t manage to take over the topic at the moment because I’m drowning in work myself”.

Making one’s situation or need transparent can help the other person to understand better and deal with the refusal of the request. Another possibility is to support the other person in finding alternative solutions. Other colleagues may have more time or interest in this task. Often very good solutions can be found together.

3. please wait …

When someone asks you to do a task, it is often optional to answer immediately. It is legitimate to think about it. And this takes time. A possible formulation could be: “I will think about it and get back to you tomorrow.” By doing this, you have not yet said “no”, but at least you have communicated to the other person that you cannot simply take on the task immediately. And you have gained time to think things through and explore your needs.


Don’t say “yes” when you want to say “no”. Of course, it often makes sense to fulfil the requests/wishes of others. But it should always be a conscious decision you do not regret afterwards.

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