Sometimes it’s okay to say no to your boss. But knowing when it's an appropriate time can be tricky, and doing it requires some tact.

In fact, there are many instances in which your boss will appreciate your denial of his request, especially if by saying yes you would risk his own goals or the goals of the company. And, if nothing else, being able to say no to your boss can keep you from getting a reputation for taking on too many things and ultimately letting everyone down.

So, yes, you can say no without getting fired. But you have to do so in the right way and for the right reasons. You need to be able to say no to your boss in a way that shows you have the company’s best interests in mind and you have respect for his authority and position. But most of all, to be a good employee, you have to be able to say no.

Have a Good Reason

First of all, if you’re going to say no to your boss without jeopardizing your job, you'd better have a good reason. This means you can’t refuse to do a task because you’re too busy during the day doing personal business, but you can refuse if you’re too busy doing the company’s business. Be honest about why you can’t accept a meeting request or take on another task, but make sure the honest answer has something to do with your ability to do your job well and improve the bottom line. Reasons for saying no to your boss should have everything to do with helping your boss and very little to do with helping yourself.

Support Your Reason

In order to successfully say no to your boss, you have to be able to support your reason for doing so with solid evidence that you are better equipped to help the team if you don’t take on the request. The best way to do this when it comes to added tasks, projects or duties, is to have a list of projects or tasks you’re already responsible for, the major milestones for those jobs, your roles and the time you’ve carved out to complete them. A boss is better able to hear a well-thought-out no than a simple “I don’t have time.” If you can show how you’ve already prioritized what’s expected of you, your boss can help you adjust the priorities to fit his needs and delegate some of your responsibilities elsewhere, based on what he feels are the more important goals.

Say It Early

It’s not enough to just have good, well-supported reasons for saying no to your boss. You have to say it right away, even if that's tough to do. The sooner you tell your boss you can’t do something, the sooner he can start finding someone else who can, or begin delegating your other tasks to different team members. Schedule a formal meeting as soon as you know it's not realistic to expect you to complete the task, so you have your boss's attention and enough time to properly explain your reasons. If you wait to say no, even if your reason is good and focused on what’s best for the company, you’ll be leaving your boss in a lurch and that will come back to haunt you. Your boss will remember how you let him down, and that’s what will stick at promotion or raise time.

Choose Your Words

Many times, what makes a successful no is when it comes disguised as a “Yes, but ...” To be good at saying no to your boss, you have to choose your words carefully. This, of course, starts with having the right reasons for refusing the request, but takes it a step further. You have to refuse in the right way. Tell your boss you understand the request or appreciate the opportunity and you would, in another situation, say yes, but for the good reason you’ve determined, the answer logically must be no. Or start with the part of the request you can take on and then explain why you can’t commit to everything. Also remember that “It’s not in my job description” is almost never the right thing to say when saying no. If you can say, “I don’t have the right skills for that task,” then you’ll stay in good standing with your boss as you both decide whether to get you the skills or give the job to someone else.

Have a Solution

Finally, the best way to be invaluable to your boss (and keep your job) when you have to say no is to have a solution ready for his when you do so. If you can come to your boss with the right reason for having to refuse a task and a solution to the issue he’s dealing with, you won’t leave him with any problem. You have to look at the situation from your boss’s perspective and understand what’s expected of him. If you can assist him with fulfilling his part of the job at hand, it won’t much matter whether or not you did the actual task completion. Help him find a more efficient, cost-effective way of handling the request and your job will definitely be safe.

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