Responding To “No” at Work

You have been leading a project team for the last six months, and the stress is increasing as deadlines get tighter and more critical. You have all taken on extra assignments, worked late, and becoming weary. You know that one team member is best qualified to help the team achieve its last big milestone. You privately ask her for one more push—and she says “NO!”

Or, you have a clear vision of how the office (kitchen, living room, back garden) should look. You’ve seen pictures that are close to your ideal environment, and you can see yourself comfortably working in that space. You explain your vision to your partner/spouse, and the first thing out of his mouth is, “NO!”

Most of the time, when you get a NO it’s because the two of you have different needs, wants, information, or expectations about how something should be. Whether the relationship is at work or at home, often differences like these can be sorted out by having an amicable conversation. However, if you feel highly stressed, without intending to, you may respond to a word, phrase, tone, or facial expression with a less-than-agreeable reaction.

Unfortunately, people often respond without thinking—out of habit—and become angry, defensive, quiet, or withdrawn. That is called a “knee-jerk reaction.”

All disagreements are not the same and, therefore, need to be managed differently.

When you are in a situation where someone says NO, you need to press pause. You need to take a breath and ask yourself, what am I trying to accomplish? What are my goals, and what are the best ways to achieve them. Different situations and different people require different approaches to help you achieve your desired outcomes. When you get a NO, it is time to make some specific decisions that will help you slow down before you react without thinking.

Use the questionnaire on page three in the link to help you become comfortable with your options for responding to a NO. By choosing the appropriate option, you will be better able to respond to a NO in a way that helps you and those with whom you live and work enjoy healthier.

About Monica…

Monica Sauls is a founder of CCLT and a corporate human resources leader with expertise in talent management, career development, change management, training, and organization development. In her additional time she writes, delivers speaking engagements, and coaches professionals—from entry-level employees to executives—to thrive from one stage of their careers to another. For more information about Monica, please visit