Saying no can be hard, especially when you want to please your customers, stakeholders, or Scrum team members. But sometimes, saying no is necessary to protect your time, energy, and focus on delivering value. Saying no can also help you set clear boundaries and expectations and avoid overcommitting or underdelivering.

So how do you say no without sounding rude or uncooperative? Here are some strategies you can use:

Use the word “no”.

Don’t beat around the bush or use vague phrases like “maybe”, “I’m not sure”, “I’ll add it to the backlog” or “I’ll think about it”. These can create confusion and false hope and make it harder for you to say no later. Be direct and firm but polite. For example: “No, I can’t take on this item right now.”

Explain why.

You could give a brief and honest reason for your refusal. This can help the other person understand your perspective and respect your decision. For example: “No, I can’t take on this item right now as it doesn’t align with our product goal.”

Offer an alternative

Could you suggest another way to help or solve the problem? This can show that you care and want to be helpful, even if you can’t do what they ask. For example: “No, I can’t take on this item right now, but I can add it to the product backlog, and we’ll get to it in 2 sprints time.”

Be respectful and grateful.

Acknowledge the other person’s request and thank them for their interest or trust in you. This can help maintain a positive relationship and avoid hurting their feelings. For example: “No, I can’t take on this item right now, but I appreciate the suggestion.”

Stick to your decision.

Don’t let the other person pressure or guilt-trip you into changing your mind. Be confident and assertive in your no, and don’t apologise for it. Remember that saying no is not a personal attack or a sign of weakness. It’s a way of taking care of yourself and your responsibilities. For example: “No, I can’t take on this item right now, and I’m not going to change my mind. Please respect my decision.”

I hope these tips help you say no politely and professionally in any situation. Remember that saying no is not only good for you but also for the other person. It can prevent misunderstandings, resentment, and burnout and foster trust and respect.


Why not test your application of product skills in Agility In Minds Product Owner Scorecard and receive a pdf with your results.

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