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How to say no (and mean it)

The ability to say no without actually uttering the word “no” is a skill that can save you hours of wasted time. As internal communicators, we tend to get a barrage of requests for tasks that are honestly not worth our time. “Can you make a poster to say the toilet is out of order?” is a genuine request I had once!

We know that requests like this are a waste of our time and they don’t align with the objectives in our internal comms strategy… but we also know the value of positive relationships and it can be hard to say no sometimes.

So how can you gracefully decline these requests while maintaining your professional relationships?

In today’s newsletter, I'll explore the art of “saying no without saying no” and discuss the importance of staying aligned with your communication strategy.

The dilemma of time-wasting requests

During the course of an average week, you can get any range of weird and wonderful requests as an internal communicator. It’s pretty common to get requests for tasks that are completely irrelevant to your comms strategy. These requests can range from writing non-essential reports to organising last-minute events or making a PowerPoint deck “look sexy” (yes, another true story from my career).

But saying yes to all of these requests will eat up all your time, leaving you little time to focus on the important work needed to deliver the comms strategy. Saying yes will also position you as a passive order-taker and undermine your primary role as a strategic communicator.

The importance of staying aligned with strategy

You probably have an internal comms strategy that sets out clear objectives that are aligned with what the business is trying to achieve. And nearly everything you do in your role should be laser focused on activities that make progress towards these objectives.

But how do you practically do say no (without saying no)? How can you say no when half the organisation is coming at you with endless asks and tasks?

Here’s a few tips.

Get curious and seek clarity

Instead of immediately accepting or rejecting a request, ask questions to seek clarity. Try to understand the stakeholder’s need (this is probably different to what they want). What’s their communication objective? What do they actually want to achieve? This helps you collaboratively identify whether this is something that’s important to the business or not, and whether it aligns with your comms strategy.

Offer guidance on how to do it themselves

If the work doesn't align with your strategy, you can talk them through how the stakeholder or their team might handle the work themselves by offering advice and guidance, or even tried-and-tested templates or checklists. It’s not that the work doesn’t need to get done – it’s just that you’re not going to be the person to do it.

Communicate your own strategy

Don’t simply say “no”. Share your comms strategy and show the logic of why you’re choosing not to work on their request. You can show the trade-off: if you accept their task, you are not going to hit the communications objective that has been agreed by the CEO.

There’s a trade off there and you’re choosing to focus on the business priorities. You can also actively communicate your strategy and priorities to key stakeholders to get ahead of requests like this. Let them know what you’ll be working on (and what you want). This can help them to understand your limitations and adjust their expectations, and gradually reduce the amount of irrelevant requests you get.

But what if it’s your own boss making the request?

If your own line manager is asking you to do tasks that don’t align with what’s been agreed in the strategy, then you can avoid feeling guilty or disrespectful by having an open discussion about it. Try something like “You’ve asked me to do X which will take me about 2 days to complete. I think it’s a bad use of my time because then I can’t work on Y which we agreed is a strategic priority for the business. But if you want me to drop Y to work on X then of course I’ll do that. What would you like me to prioritise?”

Practice the art of saying no

Saying no without saying no is an art that can help you stay aligned with your communication strategy and ensure your efforts are focused on delivering meaningful work.

By following the tips above, you can gracefully decline time-wasting requests while maintaining healthy working relationships.

Thanks for reading and stay curious,



Whenever you're ready, I can help you in 3 ways:

  • Join my group coaching programme. The IC Accelerator is now open. This programme is for ambitious, action-oriented communicators who want to take their skills and career to the next level with direct support from me. Click here to learn more.

  • Give yourself some pain relief. I've created a bespoke collection of tried-and-tested templates, how-to guides and checklists to give you step-by-step instructions on many of the processes that you need to excel in your role. These will reduce the pain of an internal comms job. You can find my Internal Comms Cheat Sheets here.

  • Hire me for a workshop. I run bespoke, in-house trainings and workshops for teams all over the world, delivered remotely or in-person. Email me if you'd like to discuss a workshop for your team at


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