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How To Say No Nicely

Saying no is a big problem in not only veterinary medicine but in our lives.

As humans, we tend to say yes to things from our innate desire to either please others or to avoid conflict¹. However, when we say yes to everything, we end up overloaded, which can leave us feeling stressed.

This stress can build up and mean you don’t perform tasks well, ultimately compounding and intensifying the level of stress experienced. 

So What Can You Do? 


If you say yes to a request, you assume some form of commitment that can leave you being time-crunched. Whereas, when you say no, you can upset both clients and/or team members.

Saying ‘no’ to clients may lead to them choosing to go to another practice, whereas saying ‘no’ to your colleagues can leave them feeling annoyed or disheartened, and saying no to your boss could be a career-limiting move.

So how do you say no in a way that helps get stuff done, without adding an insane amount of stress to your life?

How To Say No in a Nice Way

Offer An Alternative Time - ‘Would This Work Instead?’

For example, if a team member is asking to take holiday in a week, instead of saying no, find an alternative.

E.g. ‘I can’t let you book holiday time for then, but we do have a gap in the schedule in a month, would that work for you?’

This is a good way to make sure your employee understands your reasoning for saying no, while still feeling respected and heard.

The same can work with client requests for a specific day to perform a procedure.


Offer to Help- But Only As Much As You Can Handle- ‘I Can’t Do All of That, But I Can do Some’

If someone asks you to take over a case for them but you’re busy, you might say you can help by performing some of the work while setting a boundary around doing it all.

An example might be a stressed colleague asking you if you could take over a case that requires hip X-rays and blood tests while also being neutered.

In such a case, if you had a spare hour, but not two, you could commit to doing the blood work and inducing an animal/getting the hip X-rays, then handing the neutering back to your colleague.

Such a compromise might be acceptable to your colleague who needed to grab a sandwich and deal with a backlog of paperwork.You’ve helped as much as you can and you’ve probably built your relationship with your colleague too.

Pass the Hot Potato!- ‘I Can’t Do it But Let Me Point You to Someone Who Can’

If you are unable to assist, it can still be a big help to refer your colleague to someone who might well be able to.

For example, if someone asks you to carry out a procedure with them, you could say:

‘That’s not within my skill set, or I’m fully booked but have you asked Emma? I think her roster is a little lighter and she’s ten times better at that procedure than me anyway.’

Caution is required when using this tool though, if you do so too often you might end up being branded as a slacker. So be prepared to help when you can.

Mix It Up!

You could get very fancy and mix it all up, using a combination of all of the options.

For example, try saying:

– ‘Have you tried Emma? If not, I can help you next week.’

– ‘I can’t do all of this project but I could help you do the ultrasound if you can find someone to help you with the X-ray’

– ‘I can’t offer you this but I could do it in a month, would that work?’

Using the methods above allows you to keep control of your time while still supporting your colleagues. Your time is important and you should guard it! Saying no is necessary sometimes, but making sure you say it in a nice polite way can avoid team and/or client relationships breaking down.

Fancy saving some more time by learning how to avoid staff drama and keep your practice running smoothly? Why not watch Dr. Dave's free veterinary leadership webinar:


1 - ‘Boundaries: Why You Say Yes When You Really Mean No.’ 13 Nov. 2018, Accessed 11 Oct. 2021.


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