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3 Ways to Say No At Work


You’re in the middle of some deep work and you hear the infamous Slack notification, you got a DM:

Hey, I saw a post where you did some load testing setup for someone else. Can you hop on a quick with me to help me with mine? I’d appreciate it so much, it wont take more than 30min!

How can you say no? They asked so nicely and it’s important to build up those around you.

While it might be hard at first, saying no and not helping people right away is the best way to get people to respect your time. Once you respect your own time people will learn to respect yours.

Here are three ways I’ve managed to say no at work in a stern but respectful way:

1. Redirect People to Public Channels

It’s time to get out of your DMs. If someone needs help, kindly ask them to bring up the question in a public channel.

I’d love to help but unfortunately I’m focused on a big task today. Do you mind bringing it up in #team-loadtest? There’s probably someone there who could help sooner than me.

There are a ton of benefits to this:

  1. You get visibility if you end up answering the question in the public channel
  2. A more junior engineer has the opportunity to answer the question in a public channel
  3. The answer is available to any engineer who searches this question in the future
  4. This fosters more cross collaborative communication

2. Pause Notifications on your Slack

Realtime notifications make everything feel urgent. For some, turning off notifications sounds like a recipe for disaster (what if my boss messages me something urgent? what if I miss an important escalation?).

In most cases, there already are ways for someone to contact you if it’s urgent. They could bypass the snoozed notification or page you via PagerDuty. Slack notifications are not designed to be used for urgent communication.

I keep my notifications turned off the whole workday, everyday (aside from the occasional incident). I check notifications on my time so that my most important work is done before checking for any updates.

With your notifications off, you will start to notice DMs like this:

[10:31am] quick question, do you know where the doc is to delete a dev table?

[10:38am] nvm, found it!

3. Declining “opportunities”

The hardest thing to say no to is a manager request, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done.

Often managers will throw everything at you and won’t stop until you say no. They’re often managing many engineers and don’t have the brain space to keep track to which opportunities are good for you or aren’t.

Hey, Eden! Our pillar is starting to host a new knowledge share session with some rotating hosts. I want you to work with the engineer hosting it to find some engineers to do some demos.

Before saying yes, let’s evaluate the situation.

  1. Does taking on this work move your personal career goals forward?
  2. Does taking on this work move your team’s goals forward?
  3. Does taking on this work sound enjoyable?

If at least 2 of these are no, push back!

Hey, boss — the knowledge share sounds great and I’m looking forward to checking it out. I’d love to help but I know we have a deadline coming up for the project I’m leading and I’d hate for that to slip because I’m not able to focus on it.

Any chance you could find someone else who might be a better fit? If not I'm happy to take it on it just might hurt the timeline for Project X.

Your boss might say no by saying something like, ”you should be able to do both.” But it’s likely they’ll just agree with you and move on to finding someone else to do the work.


It’s time to get creative with your nos! The more experience you have, the more people will ask of you. This is when it’s especially important to learn how and when to say no.

Are you in a tricky situation that’s hard to say no to? Reply to this email! Let’s talk about it.

Thanks for reading :)