Just Say No

Telling your boss that you can’t take on a new responsibility or a new project can be tough. Most of us have a hard time saying no in these situations, even when we know that saying yes will mean we’re stretched so thin that our work will suffer (not to mention our personal lives).

The simple fact is, there’s a limit to how much one person can do. If you feel that you’ve reached your limit and your boss still wants to pile the work on, Eileen Habelow, senior vice president of career development at Randstad, has suggestions on how (and when) to say no.

Weigh your decision (and pick your battles wisely).
Whether it’s a project you’re being asked to take on or a decision you’re being asked to implement, make sure it’s something you should say no to. Consider the potential impact or consequences of the decision or project. Make sure that you understand what happens if you say no–is it a project that someone else will have to take on? Does your boss have options? Step your boss through your decision-making process and bring him or her along the path that led to your no decision.

It’s important to fully consider how you might get the project done before you respond to your boss. Think it through–what would prevent you from accomplishing what you need to do? What additional resources might make it possible for you to say yes to the request? Do you know where this project fits within the bigger picture or the strategy of your team or company? Is it an opportunity for you to contribute positively? Do you need support in shifting projects so you can work on the current request? Do you know why your boss picked you? It could be a great opportunity for you.

Do you disagree with a decision or plan of action?
What are the pros and cons of implementing the boss’s plan of action? When you approach the boss with your decision, make sure to stay focused on the potential consequences, both positive and negative. For instance, are there legal risks? Would the decision put your reputation, or your boss’s or your company’s, at risk? Have you thought of a risk that is too big to ignore? Share it with your boss. Again, step him or her through the decision-making process–share your ideas openly. It might be tough to say no to your boss, but it would be worse to have a danger you considered become a reality.

Say no in the right way.
When saying no is appropriate, it’s important to think about how to deliver that message to your boss. Stick to the decision-making process and factors you considered in deciding that no was the best answer. Present the facts, and allow your boss to consider your main points. If you’ve presented well-reasoned ideas, you might find that your boss comes to the same conclusion you did.

Avoid phrases like “I don’t want to” and “I don’t think” when saying no. If you feel strongly about the no, calmly explain what you perceive as the situation’s pros and cons. Finally, don’t make it about you, make it about the work.

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