Can you train this new hire? Can you serve as an advisor to that student organization? Would you like to be on this planning committee?
Chances are, you’ve heard more and more requests like these as you’ve moved up the career ladder. You might worry about being rude if you turn some of them down, but it’s better for both you and your broader team if you choose carefully what to accept. Piling extra tasks onto your workload will quickly lead to burnout and exhaustion, and can even impede your career progress, argues Carter Cast, a clinical professor of innovation and entrepreneurship at Northwestern University‘s Kellogg School of Management.
“Careers can derail when people don’t deliver on promises,” Cast says. “This can be a real problem because fellow workers start to distance themselves when they think you can’t be counted on.”
And a key component of delivering on your promises is keeping your workload manageable, he points out. That means knowing when to say “no” to more work.
In an article for Business Insider, Devon Delfino identifies eight requests you should never be afraid to decline at work:
1. Ineffective tasks
2. Tasks that don’t contribute to your goals or aren’t part of your job
3. Unproductive meetings
4. After-hour emails
5. Work that goes against your values
6. Low-priority projects with unrealistic deadlines
7. A recommendation letter for someone you don’t know well or fully endorse
8. Work that should be delegated or that would be best accomplished by a colleague
But how do you say no to these tasks without endangering your professional standing? Here are a few scripts from leadership experts:
1: Take ownership. “This is a decision you are making,” Amy Elisa Jackson recently wrote for the Glassdoor blog. Using pronouns like “we” or “you” can cast blame or include other members of the team who aren’t actually involved in your “no.”
Instead, Jackson suggests saying something along the lines of: “I’m glad you came to me with this opportunity, but unfortunately I won’t be able to tackle it at this time.”
2: Cut to the chase—and be honest about it. “Making up an excuse or a fake set of circumstances to get you out of the work makes you look bad,” says Jackson. Instead, “[r]eally think through your reasoning and craft a clear and concise way to convey that,” Jackson suggests.
3: Be thoughtful. If you say “no” a little too bluntly, your colleagues could get upset or offended, especially if they disagree with you. But if you provide an explanation and demonstrate that you considered the request, your colleague will respond with equal understanding.
4: Say yes—but set boundaries. Sometimes, we get asked for favors we can’t say “no” to: favors that are critical for maintaining professional relationships or connections. But big requests can usually be converted into manageable favors, writes Cast. For example, if a colleague asks to share his project idea with you, agree to brainstorm with him over the phone for a few minutes, rather than sitting down for an hours-long discussion.