It’s ok to say 'No'

I’m a software development manager who is continually being pushed by my business users to do more and do it faster, better, and cheaper. I can’t keep up with their demands and I think it’s putting my job in peril. Could I please have your advice on how to deal with this issue?

This is a great question. My bet, is that because of the nature of IT’s role and the reduction of resources because of general economic conditions that this issue is on the minds of many IT professionals, tech leads, and managers around the country and around the world.

I think this issue can be addressed in a number of ways, including the following:

  1. Provide transparency to your business users regarding what your group’s current projects and workload are
  2. Once transparency has been achieved, work with your users to prioritize your team’s work in a way that makes sense for both them and you
  3. Find creative ways to say “No” to your business users in a way that they understand and accept

The remainder of this blog post will discuss this third point.

Sometimes it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. Learning to say “no” in an acceptable and positive way is one of these cases. Also, as an aside, learning to say “no” effectively is more than a tool for the workplace, it is also a life-skill that can potentially help you in all aspects of your life.

This trick to say “no” effectively is to do so in a non-argumentative manner that explains the reason why and suggests an alternative option. For example:

  • Sorry, I can’t commit to that right now because you have me working on other things. Would you rather that I did this first and delay my other deliverables?
  • Yes we can do that, but may I suggest that we do it this way instead?
  • I don’t think I’m the best person to work on that, may I suggest talking with Mary as she is more knowledgeable than I on that topic
  • How is this task prioritized regarding the other tasks I am working on?
  • Yes, this feature would be good for the application we are building so let’s put it in the next version of the software. This version is almost done and I know you would like it completed as soon as possible.
  • I don’t think that will work because of . . . may I suggest we do . . . instead?

The goal of the above statements is to frame them in a way that is of value to your business user and provides you with the time, task, and resources that allows you to be successful. This can best be explained by a saying I read on a Salada tea label many years ago “The art of politics is letting other people have things your way.”

As IT professionals it is extremely important that we provide the highest possible quality service to the internal business groups we serve. High quality service is good for the company, your internal business users, your external clients, and you personally. That said, turning a “No, that can’t be done” into a “Yes, but …” can be a win-win for everyone. That is to say, your business users get what they need and you have control on how the service is provided.

As a final note, like sports and all good management techniques, you can’t win them all, but with the right coaching and a little practice you can increase your winning percentage.

If you have any questions about your career in IT, please email me at or find me on Twitter at @EricPBloom.

Until next time, work hard, work smart, and continue to grow.

Read more of Eric Bloom's Your IT Career blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Eric on Twitter at @EricPBloom. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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