How To Say NO To Abusers At Work

Summary – How to say NO to abusers

Very recently I have received an email asking a very interesting question. First of all, I would like to thank the sender, Pankaj, who had taken the time and sent me the email. It is always a pleasure getting to know my reader.

The following is the email Pankaj sent me. “I want to know how exactly to say NO to people. My work is almost always overloaded, but even so, when other people come to me asking for help with his work, I can never say no. I always try to help others but in this way I am always taken negative.

Well Pankaj, this is what you should do.

1) Identify why exactly that you cannot say NO

To tell you the truth, this is the most difficult steps of all but it is also the most important. Let me list a few reasons why a person cannot say NO.

  • He is a very polite person
  • He dislikes confrontation
  • He tries his very best to meet people expectation
  • He is afraid that people may not like him

Believe me there are hundreds more reason why some people cannot say NO. These four are in my opinion, the most popular reasons. Identify the reason why you cannot say NO. Close your eyes and go deep into your heart to find this out. Once you have identified the reason, everything else will be easy.

For example, let say that you dislike confrontation. You prefer to work harmoniously with everyone even to the extent that you have to do other’s work. Then you can draw your own plan on how to slowly learn the art of confrontation.

If you want to shoot an apple with an arrow, you must first know the direction to shoot. If not there are infinite numbers of direction to shoot and thus infinite numbers of failure.

2) Practice with smaller things

Still using the previous example, let say that you know that you cannot say NO because you dislike confrontation. You must then draft your own plan to be more comfortable with confrontation. Draft a small program like disagreeing with your friends about a trivia topic. An example is like why you hate the Harry Potter when everyone else adore him. That should keep the ball rolling.

Keep in mind that you are training yourself to disagree with people. The more trivia the issue the better you will be able to develop the confident to disagree. Do not start with a heavy issue like religion etc.

3) Not Important Tray

Buy a document tray and label it as “NOT Important”. Remember to capitalize the word “NOT”. Anytime a person ask you to do a job, and you still cannot say NO, just ask the person to put the work inside that tray. Make sure the person see the label and tell him that you will only help with his work once all your work is done. Even then you may not be able to help. Leave it to him to decide whether he still want your help or not.

4) Give yourself 10% allowance

If you have 60 minutes of work, always give yourself a mandatory rest of 6 minutes. That 6 minutes must not be spent in doing your work or others’. You must spend that 6 minutes to do your favorite things like replying emails to friends, chatting etc.

When you give yourself this allowance, you will subconsciously teach yourself the value of your free time. Exactly the opposite of what a lot of people believe, having allocated free time in the midst of your never-ending work will really help you appreciate the time. After a while, you will find it easier to just say NO to people since you have earned that free time with blood and sweat.

5) Create red tape

Red tape basically means the requirement and procedure that need to be followed to get things done. It is almost always a trivia task like submitting a cover letter, filling up forms, waiting for the form to be approved before you are given another form.

Why not do exactly the same to people asking you to do their job. Get them to fill up a form and submit the form to your superior. If your superior approve the form, then you will have to do the job. If not, you can just walk away. You can say that you are having a lot of trouble with your superior since you are not able to meet deadline. I sincerely believe they will not bother you anymore.

6) Give them a taste of their own medicine

If your colleague give you a work to do, you can take it but in about 5 minutes, walk to his desk and give him your work for him to do. It doesn’t need to be 5 minutes but the sooner the better since they will remember that they had just give you the work. If he can’t help you with your work, just return his work to him.

It’s basically another way to say NO

7) Teach him to fish

You know the saying. “Give a man a fish and you will feed him for the day, Teach the man how to fish and you will be feeding him for the rest of his life.”

Some people may ask you to help because you are so good at what you do. Maybe your English grammar is excellent, or you are very good with software etc. The best way to handle this kind of situation is to actually spend time coaching them on how to do their job. You may not get paid for this but there are so many other benefit that you can reap.

  • He will be so grateful to you and he will definitely return the favor one day
  • You will be seen as someone who like to help people grow
  • You can get them off your back forever


I must stress that helping out people is a very good thing. But in this article, I am assuming that the people asking for help are abusing this kindness. They are still asking others to help with their work when they should be able to do it just fine.

– I Wonder –
Do you have any other tricks to help Pankaj say NO to his colleague?

———- Personal Note ————
I once went to the immigration office with a colleague. My colleague were in front of me when We were queuing up to get the number. He got the number 100 and I who was immediately after him got the number 105. (Of course I can’t really remember the number but I know that there were gaps between my colleague’s number and mine.)

That is step number 4 and 5 mixed together.

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This post has 7 comments.

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  1. 05 Nov 09 12:15 am


    instead of saying no, i’ll say “i’ll try”.
    susah nak ckp no.

    but anyway, nice suggestions banji 🙂

  2. 05 Nov 09 11:01 pm

    Qemmal – That’s a good suggestion too. Use other words besides No. Maybe “I promise nothing”, or “I see what I can do” etc.

    Thanks Qemmal

  3. 25 Nov 09 1:19 am

    Great tips!

    I find it’s important to discover what’s important to me.

    Ask, “What’s my purpose here?”

    When we start to value ourselves and our contribution more, it’s easier to say no.

    Increased confidence and higher self worth allow us to let go of the need to be liked.

    If we treat yourself as less important than others, they can see it. It’s understandable that they then discount what we say and do.

    Change our action and in time we change the result.

  4. 06 Dec 09 3:09 pm

    Laurel – Good advice. we must first value ourselves and our time better. Then it will be easier to say no to other people.

  5. Anonymous
    12 Jan 10 8:14 pm

    long time no n3…
    hope ur ok and fine…

  6. banji
    20 Jan 10 9:44 pm

    Anonymous – Salam.. I’m really sorry about that. It’s been a roller coaster since I’ve been transfered to Sabah. Still finding some sort of balance. Other than that, I am fine. Thank you for asking 🙂

  7. 16 Feb 10 4:45 pm

    you know that’s a very important topic, not only in work but in general a person should learn to say no to abusers everywhere. thanks for reminding us of these important things

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