How To Push Back In Your Assistant Role

How often do you say ‘yes’ in any one given day?

As a Personal Assistant or Executive Assistant you have so many demands on your time.

Not just from your Executive but from your team as well as the wider departments. You are the go to person for the department or business and it can be tough saying no, especially without feeling guilty.
In this blog I will talk about how you can find your way from yes to no and set healthy boundaries.
One thing to know right off the bat is that it’s OK to say ‘no’ and in fact it is healthy to set boundaries. By setting boundaries you are commanding respect and sharing with others where the line is.

Sometimes ‘yes’ lives in the land of ‘no’.

A good way to set your boundaries is to say ‘no’ and give a brief explanation i.e. ‘No, because…’. If people understand the ‘why’ behind your ‘no’ then they will better be able to understand your decision. However, if you’re not clear on your ‘yes’ or ‘no’ then you’ll give
an implied ‘maybe’ and that’s just confusing for everyone.

As an ex Personal Assistant of 22 years I know what it’s like to want to please everyone and create outstanding work for your Executive. It’s difficult to push back and say no to requests that aren’t necessarily urgent priorities.

Many of us having trouble saying no, you are not alone.

“You can be a good person with a kind heart and still say no.” — Lori Deschene

Remember, if you don’t look after yourself then you can’t look after others so let go of the belief that it’s selfish to say no and put yourself first.
It’s actually an act of kindness. By saying no to your boss, who may be trying to saddle you with extra work, you are teaching them how to treat not only you, but all employees, with more respect.

Also, you don’t have to respond to requests immediately, so if you’re under pressure don’t react with a ‘yes’ but tell them you’ll come back to them or ask for more time. This allows you to consider a request calmly and evaluate it carefully before giving your answer.

Here are some statements you could use for boundary setting…
 I’ll have to call you back in a few minutes
 I’ve got to think about that, I’ll let you know
 I need to check my calendar, I’ll get back to you
 I’m in the middle of something urgent right now, let me get back to you by [state time]

Using statements such as these allows you to set your boundaries and set expectations. It gives you breathing space and allows you to push back in a healthy non-confrontational way.

Another difficulty assistants experience, in fact a lot of us do, is feeling bad by saying no.

You feel like you are rejecting the other person and feel guilty as a result or that you are letting the other person down. So you tend to go with the path of least resistance and say yes, even if it’s detrimental for you to do so.

Here’s one way you could say no ‘without the guilt’…
“I’m sorry I can’t right now but will let you know when and if I can’t.
This is a polite response and puts you in a position of power by changing the dynamic. You’re taking charge and letting the other person know you’ll help them, when and if you can.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this blog and now have a better idea of how you can turn your ‘yes’ into a ‘no’ and set healthy boundaries.
In the meantime, you can learn more about Suzie Flynn Coaching at or follow me at or
Photo by Gemma Evans on Unsplash

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