“How can I say no to extra work from my boss or colleague professionally and without making enemies?”
We’ve all been in situations where a coworker or our manager or even our manager’s manager has asked us for help to do something that we don’t want to do or that we don’t have the capacity to do. It could be very difficult considering the power dynamics. It’s important to recognize that the way we say no to our friends/acquaintances will be different from the way that we say no at work.
The first stage is to demonstrate that you’re trying to understand and consider their request with these four steps:
1. Paraphrase the request to confirm understanding.
You could say something like “just to make sure I understand your request, is this what you’re saying…?” You may even find out what you think they’re asking for is different from what they think they’re asking for.
2. Try to determine if you’re the only one who can do it the extra work.
Determine if there’s someone else on the team who could help you with the extra work. You may feel you are deflecting on work if you do that, but think of it as you are sharing the responsibility and opportunity for exposure. Perhaps your coworker hadn’t thought about asking certain people because they just don’t have as much exposure to them. There’s an opportunity for you to play “connect the dots” and you can say “I think so-and-so can help you.”
3. Try to understand if their deadline is fixed or flexible.
If you’re willing to do it, yet you need more time, try to see if you can negotiate the deadline. Sometimes people feel more urgency than is actually needed. Try to understand what they’re thinking about by determining this deadline.
4. If you need time to process and let them know when you’ll get back to them.
People often just want to hear a response, whether that is in the affirmative or negative. Yet so often, if we can’t respond in the affirmative, we don’t even respond in the negative. You will earn a lot of goodwill if you respond as soon as possible and offer when you can get back to them.
In the second stage, decide if you still want to say no. If you still want to say no after you have discussed the request, take these five steps to say no professionally:
1. Share what you have to give up doing if you fulfill their request.
Oftentimes when people are asking for help, they don’t think about what you might have to give up in order for you to accommodate the request. You just have to tell them.
2. Ask them what they think you should give up or delay to fulfill their request.
After you tell them what you’re working on, you can turn the question onto them and ask what they think you should give up. This also signals you do have to give something up in order to fulfill their request and it will make them rethink their request. Sometimes people make requests that are not thought out because they just want to get some relief.
3. Share alternative solutions to get their needs addressed.
You may know other people or resources in the department that they don’t know about and they could actually use to fulfill their request. Even if you just say “you may want to check with so-and-so, you will start to be seen as helpful.
4. If the request makes you uncomfortable, say that.
If you’re not sure how to explain why, just say, “I don’t know why, I just don’t feel comfortable doing this.” There could be so many different reasons for why you don’t want to say yes to this request. If it makes you uncomfortable, share that.
5. Reinforce your desire to be helpful and that you want to focus on doing your current job/task well.
You want to end the conversation on a positive note. Let them know you do want to be helpful, and yet there’s just so much other work, and no relief in sight, so you have to say no.
Which of these strategies on how to say no professionally resonates with you? I’d love for you to share your thoughts in the comments section. If this was helpful, please share it with a friend or post it on social media.