Today’s question comes from a busy professional:
I’m looking for advice on how to say no to your boss without actually using the word “no.” Often we are asked to work over the weekend, stay late at night or attend an event that conflicts with a personal event like a concert or a wedding. How do we say no to our boss without actually saying “no” and without having our career suffer? Please provide an example. Thanks.
One Recommendation is to don’t assume. Start a conversation and ask questions to make sure you understand what he/she actually needs. Initiate weekly (or every-other-week) one-on-one meetings with your manager/boss to assure you stay on the same page. Things you discuss in these regular one-on-one meetings can include:
Make sure your boss understands what’s already on your plate.
Your boss oversees several people and may not remember exactly what is on your plate. Whenever he asks you to add something to your plate, say “Certainly – this is what I am already working on. Which of these things do I remove or postpone, to accomplish this new task”. Many people “assume” their boss wants everything one at once….when it’s just a matter of prioritizing what is on the plate. Use your regular one-on-one meetings to re-evaluate the priority as things come up.
Just because it’s a MUST DO – doesn’t mean YOU MUST DO IT.
Your boss’ goal is to have this task completed. He doesn’t necessarily care “who” does it. He cares that it’s done accurately and efficiently. Start a conversation regarding who – in your team – is the best person for that task. “Yes – this an exciting project. I know that Tony is working on something very similar. I am meeting with him at 3:00 and I will see if this fits into something he is already doing.” OR — “Yes – this fits great into Jamie’s job description. I want to mentor him on some of my lower-level tasks. I can fill him in and help monitor his progress on it – if you like that idea.”
Make sure you understand the “real deadline” and reason for the task.
When someone gives you a deadline — it is often a first-thought, arbitrary date (especially if you haven’t been involved in the estimates). Instead of automatically assuming that this is a drop-dead date – find out if it’s linked or dependent upon something. Understand if this is in a critical path and why it needs to be done by this date. Give your expert opinion on how long the task will realistically take. Share what is already on your plate and put on your project management hat on. Suggest – “I will be able to complete this other project and then look at this on Monday. This will give us some additional time for XYZ to be fully tested, and I will have a better foundation on Monday to start.” Often times, this allows the manager to rethink the deadline and realize that the delay allows him/her to review the tasks in more detail.
Many times they are fine with a deadline readjustment, because they really didn’t have a critical reason for the initial, arbitrary deadline.
Be transparent and proactive in volunteering
By sharing your calendar/events with your manager, you reduce the risk of them scheduling you for conflicting business events. As a high performer, you should be aware of all the important events of the company. During your regular one-on-one meetings, take the initiative and volunteer ahead of time – for events that you can attend. Share conflicts on the other items. Volunteering to attend some of the events that “do not conflict with your personal events” – reduces the likelihood that you will be called upon to attend the ones that are in conflict. This also shows your boss that you are not “against” attending after-hours work events — (not saying “NO”) – but you are taking the initiative to select the events that you are going to attend.
Bottom line — take the initiative, be proactive and be your own project manager.
Hope this helps a little.
I know your situation is different. If you would like additional information on this topic, please contact LauraRose@RoseCoaching.info
I am a business coach and this is what I do professionally. It’s easy to sign up for a complementary one-on-one coaching call, just use this link https://www.timetrade.com/book/WFSFQ
With enough notice, it would be my honor to guest-speak at no cost to your group organization.