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Why It's OK to Say 'No' At Work

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We’ve all been on the receiving end of last-minute or urgent tasks at 5 p.m. “There’s a client emergency, can you finish this report before you go home?” That’s a frequent one for anyone who works in client services. In a case like that, where there is a legitimate urgent request, saying "yes" is really the only choice. But what if your manager wants you to join an internal task force, or team members urge you sign on to the volunteer committee? There are plenty of cases where it’s ok to say "no" at work. Some will be easy to do, and others will take more careful consideration. Here are factors to keep in mind when deciding if you should take on that extra project or say "no."

Is it part of your core job?

There of things we might not want to do at work, like those pesky end-of-month reports, but if they are vital to the job, then sorry, but you’re going to have to get the work done anyway. However, you might be asked to take on projects that deflect efforts from set goals and work priorities – potentially negatively affecting job performance. Will helping out on the party planning committee mean you can can’t focus on urgent deadlines? That should be an easy no.

Will it lead to career advancement?

Take time to consider additional work that is meaningful and important to the business. For example, is your boss asking you to take on extra responsibilities because you’ve mastered your current role and the team is evaluating how ready you are for a promotion? Or are you the one that gets loaded down with requests simply because you say "yes" often? If there’s a lot of extra work to do to cover for someone who left, and that work isn’t directly related to your goals or the goals you have for advancement, that should be a "no." That’s the kind of work that’s best suited to someone else whose role aligns more closely with those responsibilities and who could potentially get the work done quicker because they are legitimately more qualified.

Are you on the brink of burnout?

Even if the extra work is meaningful and could potentially benefit your career, is it worth it if you’ll need to work nights and weekend long-term? Have a candid conversation with your boss if you find yourself in this situation. Career experts warn that pulling too many extra hours actually make us less productive and worse at our jobs, and no one wants to take on extra work only to be put in a position to fail. If it’s the kind of work you actually want to do, talk to your manager and explain that while you’d love to pitch in, you fear the schedule is full already. Perhaps there’s a way to split up less urgent tasks so you can take on these more important projects.

Now that ‘no’ is an option, how do you communicate it?

Mostly importantly, this is time to rely on plenty of tact and grace to signal you’re a team player, but just can’t or are not the most qualified person to take on this specific request. When you decline a project, be super clear. Don’t use words like "maybe." When you are having a conversation with your manager or the person who is making the ask, be specific about why you can’t take on this project, whether because of other pressing deadlines or simply too much on the to-do list already. And lastly, be prepared for a potential conversation where your boss tries to negotiate or talk you into it. They may not have any kind of evil intentions, as they may be feeling desperate, too, but you’ll need to be comfortable reaffirming your choice.

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About the Author

Kristin Amico is a career and business writer who spent more than a decade managing creative teams at digital agencies. She has written for The Muse, The Independent and USA Today.