When your boss asks you to perform a task that you feel is counterproductive or a flat out waste of time, it’s often a judgment call as to how best respond to the request. You certainly don’t want to appear insubordinate, but at the same time you don’t want to spend a large amount of effort on something that you are certain will simply not work.
Refer to my tips below to handle the situation professionally and with diplomacy…
How to Say “No” in the Workplace:
Your boss asks you to do something that you are certain will not work.
Use this as an opportunity to see how you can creatively turn the “waste of time” into an opportunity for you to “shine”. Your boss is in a position of power and while the task may seem like a ridiculous use of your energy, it is significant enough that she has specifically asked for you to follow a certain path. In this situation, it’s best to consider your options. Avoid the urge to vent and complain to fellow coworkers – they may be waiting to step into your position when your boss finds out that you are unhappy! Instead, respond with something like this:
Anne, I want to assure you that I am committed to the success of this project and I am more than happy to do whatever it takes to ensure a favorable outcome. Would you mind allowing me to offer an alternate suggestion based on my prior experience with this project and the difficulties that we have already encountered? I am willing to work overtime to accomplish our goal but I feel certain I can come up with a more time efficient and cost effective outcome that would satisfy our client and make the project a success.
Your boss routinely asks you at the last minute to work over the weekend.
Here’s a suggested response, delivered assertively with grace:
Unfortunately on such short notice, I’m not able to change a prior commitment. I am happy to come in early on Monday morning or stay late for the duration of this week – how would you like for me to proceed? I’m committed to the success of this job and I will give it my full attention until it is complete if that is what you would like for me to do.
How should you tell your boss that by doing something he or she requested it has forced you to put aside other tasks that are more important?
There is nothing wrong with gently and professionally reminding your boss that you are working on several projects that she has tagged as “high priority” and you may need her input on how she would like for you to prioritize. An appropriate response would be:
I am happy to start working on the XYZ project and will start the process right away. You have given me several high priority tasks and I’d like to schedule a meeting to discuss what order you would like for me to prioritize – from most important to least. Do you have a preference on which project I should give my attention to first?
A coworker asks you to give her a ride home and it’s in the opposite direction of your home, in rush hour traffic!
Unfortunately I’m going in the opposite direction but I am happy to drop you off near the subway or train station.
Of course, if you were able to occasionally accommodate a coworker, and it wasn’t unrealistic to help out, it would be a generous act of courtesy that would probably not go unnoticed.
Your colleagues are pressuring you to buy their children’s fundraising items, cookies, wrapping paper, etc.
When you buy from one person, you feel compelled to buy from everyone. On the other hand, who wants to look like the office scrooge? Talk to your supervisor privately and ask if there is a policy in place about selling fundraising items (chances are there is one that is not being enforced). If all else fails, you may wish to respond with something along these lines:
I have already spent my allotted budget on my own children’s fundraising items. Good luck, I know how difficult it is to raise funds.
Saying “no” doesn’t have to be a stressful. With a little thought and practice, you will become an assertive (and gracious) “No” pro – and a much happier person!