It’s a good feeling when you are everyone’s “go to” – the person everyone approaches for help, especially when the person asking is your customer.

However, it is important to strike a balance between being helpful and being overextended.

Saying no can be healthy. We are all human and can only accomplish so much in a day. Sometimes, you or your manager may need to push back, especially if project scope could be impacted. A true scenario for your customers, colleagues, and even your supervisor.

The default response, “Sure, I’ll take care of that for you” can lead to consequences for yourselves and others:

  • Handling small requests, but putting off important projects
  • Turning in late or low quality work
  • Missing the work/personal life balance – sacrificing what helps you reset
  • Feeling overwhelmed, inadequate, guilty, frustrated, and resentful

I’m not advocating skating by or never taking on extra assignments, but when every request distracts from your priorities, the impact is tough; everyone ends up frustrated. Saying no does not need to be harsh – it can be a small shift in behavior, saying “not now” or providing alternatives instead of an automatic “yes.” Clear, respectful responses help you avoid over committing or creating a negative impression when saying no to inappropriate or out of scope work. Consider the following approaches before responding:

Last minute requests or short deadlines

  • I would love to help, but I’m already committed today. Is it ok if I get this to you [alternate deadline]?
  • I know this is a high priority, and if quick turnaround from me is necessary, I can make it happen. If I have more time (alternate deadline), I can deliver higher quality.

Work you can’t commit to right now

  • I appreciate you thinking of me, but unfortunately, I don’t have the bandwidth to provide my best efforts currently. I think you would benefit from our finding someone who can devote more time to this project.
  • Please email me the project details. Once I receive them, I’ll be able to give you a better idea of when I can get this done.

Suggesting alternative resources

  • I can’t complete this until [timeframe]. If you need it sooner, I can work with [Manager] to identify someone who can help.
  • I think someone else might be a better fit for [project]. I suggest talking with [Manager] to see if [employee] may have time.

Out of scope or inappropriate requests
(Usually the responsibility of a Director/Manager)

  • Let me speak with [Director/manager] and we will get back to you about addressing your request.
  • Let me brainstorm some ideas with [Director/manager] to find a solution.

If these situations seem familiar, talk with your manager/peer to ensure your priorities align with program/project goals. You may discover how to better address situations.

And remember, when you encounter an instance where you need to set boundaries or say no, be honest, timely, respectful, and keep your manager in the loop.

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