SAYING no is not easy, and it is especially challenging when the person making a request is your boss or an equally powerful person - the client.
It can be quite intimidating to consider refusing a request from either of these high-ranking people because they seem to hold your fate in their hands.
However, you stand to suffer greater consequences if you don't set boundaries. Attempting to add their requests to your already overloaded "to do" list could result in outcomes that either reflect poorly on you or, worse, negatively affect you.
Failing to set boundaries could result in:
Failure to deliver on time;
Other projects suffering;
Your own suffering due to mental andphysical exhaustion; and
Other people suffering when you are cranky and in stress overload mode
So, what do you do? When you have "no rank to pull", your best bet is to seek input, gain clarification and propose alternatives.
A print shop where I used to have my brochures and other printed materials done had a sign over the door that warned customers: "Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part!"
Unfortunately, you may find yourself in a situation where someone has failed to plan and then makes demands on you when he or she goes into "emergency mode".
Although you may want to please customers and bosses and meet their needs, you don't want to get stressed or have your work suffer in attempting to meet the demands.
That's when collaborative phrases can be useful. For example, say to the client: "Would you be willing to wait until Monday morning if we hand-deliver your order?" or "Could you live with it if we finished it up first thing tomorrow instead of 5pm today?" or "We're finishing up other jobs right now. How about we get started on your requests right after lunch?"
You can use similar phrases when a boss or someone "higher up" in the organisation asks something of you. For example:
"I'm working on your other three urgent projects today. Would you be OK with me getting this new project to you by lunch time tomorrow?"
"Would it work for you to receive the info you need by tomorrow morning?"
"Would it be possible to get this report to you first thing next week instead of Friday afternoon?"
Of course, the boss or client can choose not to go along with your proposed alternative. That's when you may find yourself needing to get clarification and/or seek input. Try saying:
"I would really appreciate the extra time to do the best job possible. Would you be willing to reconsider?"
"I'm concerned that the 5pm deadline won't allow us to gather all the necessary information."
"I'm concerned that working on this project today will delay the other projects that we're already working on for you. Which one is your highest priority?"
Another work-related scenario crops up when someone says: "I need you to join my committee." Your possible responses are:
"I'm flattered that you'd like me to be part of your committee. However, I'm going to choose to pass."
"I can't join your committee. What I can do is offer you resources or funding or staff support, or"
"I appreciate your considering me. However, I need to decline."
The question that will most likely trip you up in choosing to refuse is "why?' It is very easy at this point to digress into "justification" or "excuse-making" mode. Instead, when someone questions your decision, simply use one of the follow-up phrases below:
"It seems to make sense to me."
"It seems like the best decision for me."
"That's just what I've chosen to do."
"It feels right."
And my all-time favourite:
Practise this approach to saying "no" nicely, and you will feel more in control of your life.