How To Say No: Boss Edition

It’s Monday morning and your day is booked to the brim between catching up on emails, meetings with colleagues, and completing a complex presentation. You’re on your second cup of coffee – it keeps going cold as you forget about it to pick up the steadily ringing telephone. You can feel the stress and tension build as you get a few IMs from coworkers about additional elements that you need to add to your presentation by noon today. To add the cherry on top of the sundae, now your boss is asking you for assistance on a project.

Are you cringing yet? Good. I’m wincing just thinking about it.

Many people, including myself, have a problem saying “no” when presented with an unattractive option; whether it is for a date with a guy who you just don’t click with, to the more important situation of confronting your manager about too much on your plate.

I am a woman who likes to go above and beyond. If I have a task to complete, I take the extra steps necessary to make it perfect. I can spend all day fiddling around on a PowerPoint just to make sure the color scheme matches up and all the text begins at the same margin. Crazy? Probably, but it works for me and it shows the dedication I have to the assignment.

My work doesn’t shine through when I’m swamped with projects and deadlines. I can’t spend time double checking the data on my graphs or proofread the entire presentation aloud to make sure there aren’t any errors. Even though everything is being completed on time, my work doesn’t reflect the effort that I’m putting into it.

Saying “no” in the workplace is becoming an increasingly touchy subject. You want to be the go-to-gal but you simply don’t have enough time to complete everything you need to do without leaving yourself in a rough spot. What do you do?

First, don’t jump the gun and say yes too quickly. We’ve all done this – eager to impress a higher up, we say yes to a project too swiftly without realizing all the work and research that will have to go into it. Once we get the full details of the project, we want out, but we’ve already agreed to it. When someone asks you to help complete a task for them, get all the details in writing and make sure that you fully understand what you’re getting into. Analyze the things you might need to do and make a decision as to if it’s too much for you to put on your plate.

If you’re going to say no, then explain to your boss why you can’t take another project on right now.  Don’t come up with a laundry list of excuses! Your boss doesn’t want to hear that you can’t do the project because you have x, y, and z to do. Instead, politely decline, stating that you are already dedicated to your other projects, and you don’t want to compromise completing those. After all, you don’t have superhuman multi-tasking powers.

Suggest a coworker that you know has been eager to expand their expertise and take on new projects. In this day and age, you can quickly ping your coworker who has been complaining about a light workload and ask them if they’re interested before you even bring up the idea to your manager. They might just thank you for the opportunity.

Don’t be afraid to hold your ground either – no means no. Reiterate that you’re unable to take on any more tasks until you finish what’s currently on your plate.  Saying yes could mean that you miss the deadline on something else and the tasks that you have to complete aren’t done well enough to show the effort that you put into them.

Have you had to turn down a project before? What was the outcome?

Kristina Mahar

Kristina Mahar is currently living and working in Connecticut. She currently works at GE Capital supporting a team of IT CIOs, which keeps her busy and happy. Prior to her role at GE Capital, Kristina has worked at an international hedge fund, a technology center of excellence, and as a writer. Although new to the world of blogging, Kristina has been writing since the moment she could hold a pen. Follow Kristina on Twitter @KristinaMahar.</