The Art of Saying “No” as an IT Pro

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Nobody likes to be the bearer of bad news. When you’re in an IT role, however, it’s sometimes unavoidable. The upgrade will be double the estimated cost, the data can’t be recovered, the email that the CEO clicked on was indeed a phishing attempt.

Sometimes, even a simple “no” can be tough to deliver. You may feel that in your role, it’s not okay to say “no” to certain people. But saying “no” can actually benefit you, as well as the person you’re turning down, and it’s possible to share the news without causing conflict or strife.

Why Saying “No” Is Crucial

No one can do it all. Whether you’re on an IT staff of hundreds or you’re de facto tech support in addition to your non-IT job, you have a limited amount of time and resources.

You may take on responsibilities because of your ambition; for example, if you’re trying to change your career path or climb the corporate ladder, you might volunteer for extra work or take on difficult requests in order to move toward your goals.

But saying “yes” to every request, big or small, puts you on the fast track to stress, burnout, and depression. In other words, not learning how to say “no” can be counterproductive to your co-workers, your company, and most importantly, yourself.

Saying “no” can be awkward and difficult. But learning how to do it allows you to set boundaries that will help you be more productive, gain respect, and advance your career.

Now that we’ve convinced you of the value of no, read on for some tips and guidance on how to do it.

Be Prepared

Before you can respond to any request, you need to have an accurate understanding of your own availability. This means staying organized and exercising good communication with your superiors. This will help you to understand your team’s priorities, as well as the big picture of what’s going on at your company.

Prepare yourself with strategies that can make saying “no” more palatable to the recipient. One classic method is sandwiching a “no” between two positive statements. Let’s say you can’t stay late because you’re taking a class, but your coworker asks you for help. Explain that you would like to assist but you have a professional commitment that conflicts, and then ask how you might be able to help tomorrow.

Another strategy to try is pre-empting. If you’re in a meeting and sense requests coming that you’ll have to say “no” to, announce at the beginning that you’re going to do your best to contribute, but you’re booked solid for the week. If you’ve got a big project to finish, work with your supervisor to send out a company-wide email letting employees know that only urgent help desk tickets will be answered for the next several days.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to refer your requestor to someone else more appropriate for the request. If a new colleague asks you to help get wifi set up in a meeting room, but you’re actually the security analyst, direct them to the right person or process to get their task completed.

Take Your Time

Sometimes saying “no” can be difficult simply because you feel rushed. There’s nothing wrong with telling someone you need a little more time to give their request some thought and/or check your availability. This may mean consulting your calendar and replying in 10 minutes, or it may mean sleeping on it. Either way, it signals to the requestor that you’re taking them seriously but also honoring your existing commitments. You’ll also have some time to consider the best way to say no.

Be prepared to repeat yourself. You aren’t always going to get an “Okay, that’s fine” response to your “no.” You may get pushback, and the best way to respond is with patience and simplicity. Say “no” again and repeat your explanation if needed, but don’t over-explain.

Deliver “No” in the Right Way

Saying “no” the right way may be the hardest part of all. It’s easy to fall into the pattern of cushioning your “no” with weak phrasing such as “I’m sorry but I don’t think I can…” It’s important to be polite, but hedging or apologizing like this simply leaves you open to pressure and doesn’t actually help the other person.

However, a flat-out “No” can be inappropriate, especially if it’s to a supervisor or someone in a position of leadership. In many cases, it’s important to acknowledge the requestor with an introductory phrase such as, “Thank you for thinking of me, but…” If you need to say “no” to your employees, you should also couch your “no” in affirmative statements and an explanation of the reasons behind turning down their suggestions or requests.

Armed with these tips, we hope you feel more empowered to say “no” as an IT pro. While it can be difficult to be the bearer of bad news, learning when to say “no” is better for everyone in the long run. In order to be successful at work, you need to stick to your priorities and be true to your convictions. Your future self will thank you for it.

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