One of the hardest things you can do in your career is to say no to your boss. We are conditioned to want to say yes to a boss — even if we really don’t have the time, energy, or expertise to do something well. It’s hard to say no to one more thing, especially since you don’t want to put your job at risk.
However, there comes a point when you really can’t take on another work-related project. You might be swamped at work, or you might find yourself working increasingly long hours without a corresponding increase in compensation.
As you consider whether or not you can say no, here are some things to keep in mind:
Can You Do a Part of the Project?
Perhaps you can’t take on the whole project, but you can do a portion of it. Look at the project as a whole, and suggest that you just focus on one key area. If you take this route, though, you need to make sure that you can point to co-worker or someone else who can take on part of the work as well.
You can point out that you have other projects in the works, and that you have a specialty area that could benefit the new work, but that so-and-so also has good experience to help out. Spreading the work around can give everyone a chance to shine, and keep from burdening you with too much to do.
Ask About Priorities
Sometimes, your boss just needs a reminder that you are already swamped. However, saying that you are too busy isn’t usually the best approach. Instead, suggest that you sit down and talk about your workload and priorities. Make an appointment with your boss to discuss your current projects and assignments, including your daily tasks.
Ask him or her to go over which are most important, including the new work. This is a gentle reminder that you are doing a lot of work. Frame the meeting as your boss helping you prioritize your work so that you can focus on the most important projects first. Hopefully, once your boss sees how full your plate is, he or she will either take the project elsewhere, or put you on this project while reducing your workload elsewhere.
Tips for Setting Up the “No” Conversation
First of all, you need to remain calm and in control. If you are going to say no to something, you need to have a good reason for it. You need to be able to articulate yourself clearly, without getting angry or upset. Prepare ahead of time so that you are ready to carry on a reasonable conversation.
Next, make sure you are coming into this early on. If you know that there will be a conflict with work, or even in your personal life (such as a child’s wedding, or you are caring for an ailing parent), let your boss know as early as possible. If you have already scheduled time off, you need to point that out as early as possible.
Finally, have alternatives ready. You need to present your boss with plausible alternatives, whether you ask to just take on part of the project, suggest a different timetable, or come up with another solution, you need to be there, in problem-solving mode, if you want to make your refusal more palatable.