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No, it’s such a simple word that often escapes our lips without much thought. But using it on the job could mean the difference between a promotion and a pink slip. Read on to learn when is the right time to say no in the office.

Contrary to popular belief, saying no doesn’t always negatively impact a promising career. A simple “no” here and there helps to create healthy work boundaries and can free employees up for bigger projects where they can shine. According to Rick Mauer, author of Beyond the Wall of Resistance: Why 70% of All Changes Still Fail — and What You Can Do About It, dropping a no bomb every now and then can help show off your delegation skills.

“There’s a time and a place for no,” says Mauer, “you just have to watch for the cues.” This is especially true if you’re just starting a new job. “Watch how your coworkers handle job requests. If you don’t see anyone else saying turning down assignments, you might be working in an environment where the answer’s always yes.”

So when is a good time to invoke the power of no? CareerPath.com lists a number of situations including facing unreasonable demands and deadlines, being assigned too much work and tasks that are out of your skill set. If you want to start saying no at work, Mauer suggests that you start by turning down smaller request as a test run. Why? There’s an art to denying a request. Instead of a harsh no without any explanation, try for a gentle decline with an explanation or an alternative solution. Mauer uses the example of, “I can work on X, but Y will be delayed as a result.” Another option? “I know that you would like me to work on project A, but project B must be turned in by end of day. Perhaps I can send the relevant information to another team member so we can complete both tasks in a timely fashion.”

Joyce E. A. Russell, a licensed Industrial and Organizational Psychologist, recently wrote in a Washington Post article that you should practice your no’s. “Be direct when saying no. Don’t over-talk the point and don’t be wishy-washy.” Russell also cautions that some people may not be happy with your denial. However you should stay firm in your answer and remember, that a “no” to one thing means a “yes” to something that is more important to you — your own time and priorities. This is one tradeoff that may be well worth it.

Although it might be tempting to say no to every tertiary task that comes across your desk, you should be picky with your no’s, especially considering the current job market. “In this economy some people don’t have the luxury of saying no,” says Mauer. “I have clients that are working to maintain health benefits. While it would be nice to work in an environment where employees can say no without fear of reprisal, every job is different.”

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