Know how to say “No” with grace and confidence

Five tips to help ensure your work plate does not get overloaded i.e. saying “no” while being professional:

1 – Manage expectations: Learn to be realistic when you estimate how much time it will take you to complete a request, then build-in a cushion for working on your other commitments and any unforeseen urgencies. Try not to commit to an exact deadline until you have had a chance to analyze just how much work is involved. E.g. “Thank you for the request, I will take a look at what is involved and get back to you shortly with a proposed time frame and a plan to meet the deadline, for your approval/discussion.” Under-promise and over-deliver!

2 – Handle the “Urgent! Urgent! Urgent!” requests: First, ask questions to determine just how urgent the request really is. If indeed it is urgent, then recommend which files can be put on hold, assigned to someone else, or priorities shifted so you can ensure the deadline for the urgent file is met. Also think of who else can pitch-in to help with the urgency.

3 – Don’t become the ‘meat in the sandwich’ between two managers: This is particularly important if you work within a matrix structure where you can be working on multiple files and reporting to different managers with competing priorities. If you are being pulled into too many directions, ask for a meeting with both managers present and try to work out a reasonable schedule… who knows they may even decide to help one another out. If that doesn’t work, encourage your primary manager to have a meeting with the other to discuss priorities and find a solution for more reasonable demands and putting other files on hold, or bringing in other resources.

4 – Don’t become the “Office Spackle” i.e. the ‘go to person’ and the only one who can plug all the holes! Sure it is flattering – but is it worth the cost of working tons of hours to fix everyone’s problems? Transfer your knowledge and coach and mentor others so that you are not the only one in the office who can do a particular task or be known as Ms./Mr. “Fix it.” If you create this kind of dependency, be prepared to get a lot of extra work!

5 – Keep track of files and be proactive: Be a solution finder rather than a complainer. Manage your workload, recommend process improvements to increase efficiency, and keep the manager informed re: key files with regular status reports and meetings. Identify files where there may be some delays, provide rationale, and propose ways to get them back on track and ask for the manager’ input or advice – they may be able to guide you and provide ideas, or even facilitate the task for you by re-negotiating deadlines with clients/stakeholders where possible or by providing more resources. Added bonus: You’ll gain credibility!

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