Being assertive at work

by By Belinda Wan (
published on 30 June 2016

Are you overworked? Is it because you have difficulty saying no at the office?

Although it is good to be a responsible team player, you should not make a habit of saying yes to every assignment that comes your way.

In the long run, this can cause you to experience stress and anxiety if you cannot keep up with the deadlines.

If the volume of work is indeed beyond your capacity, learn to say no while expressing your reasons.

Trainer, relationship coach and author Desmond Chua said: “Many employees are reluctant or afraid to say no, especially if the request comes from the boss.

“They think that by saying no, others would form a bad impression of them, or the boss may bypass them for promotions or other assignments in future. Clarity of work roles, and knowledge of the office culture and how various types of industries operate play an integral part in this.”

It is also important to say no in a way that will not cause offence.

Mr Chua suggested these tips for two possible office scenarios.


What to say to your boss: “I’m afraid I can’t join you today as I have an appointment that I made two weeks ago. Perhaps I can join you next time?’”

Why this works: “Saying no directly to supervisors or colleagues may be misconstrued as a form of rejection, and most people cannot accept rejection,” said Mr Chua.


What to say to your boss: “I would love to take on this new assignment. As you may be aware, I have two other assignments that you asked me to do two weeks ago – planning for the team-building event for Q3 and the competitor’s analysis report. Which assignment should I put aside so I can take on this new one?’”

Why this works: “This way, you have told your boss that he or she has to decide which assignment should take priority. At same time, you are able to perform the tasks without burning the candle at both ends,” said Mr Chua.