There’s definitely a place and a time to say no. Knowing the difference is going to be the key to your sanity. And the tone you use when saying it will be the key to keeping your good reputation. There are many instances where saying no is not an option – from resident directors to presidents know this to be true. But when you get the opportunity to choose between joining a committee or doing a project, be thoughtful, intentional and strategic about your decision. Do not say yes because you feel guilty. And don’t say yes just because you like someone or because they are always nice to you. Chances are they will continue to be nice to you even if you say no. There are diplomatic and positive ways to say no. Make sure you are polite, but strategic. It can go along way.
4 questions to ask yourself before you agree to take on additional tasks at work.
1. What is already on my docket?
Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize. Take into consideration the time of year. Many higher ed jobs have seasons. I for one try to avoid additional projects in April or May because I am in full commencement mode. I have been known to decline tasks or short term projects during that time of year. And most people no longer ask me to take on something new during this season because they already know the deal. As a supervisor, I have also denied requests for my staff members to be on committees or take on extra work. They didn’t need to say no. I did it for them. So if you are feeling overwhelmed and cannot take on yet another committee, talk to your boss. He or she can make it easier for you!
2. What’s in it for me?
If you are ambitious like me, you are always looking for opportunities to get ahead and further develop your skills in-house. I accepted a long term opportunity to work closely on enrollment management strategy with senior-level directors on campus. The committee membership was diverse both culturally and divisionally and the knowledge I have acquired on that committee is priceless. It has truly helped break down the silos we often experience in higher ed. I am, however, discriminating about accept gigs to be on search committees. Searches can be a lot of work and can drag out….and depending on the chair, you could get stuck on a team that is inefficient and indecisive. No bueno! So this is where the strategy comes in. Will you be learning something new about your industry? Perhaps the position is in an area you know little about and can use a quick tutorial. Is this a chance to share your expertise with others and enhance your reputation? Is it an executive level search? If the answer is no to all of these questions, then you may have to take a pass.
3. Who will I be working with?
The reality is that there are just some folks who are hard to work with. Lovely people that they may be over a cup of coffee, their work ethic or work flow style just doesn’t mesh with yours. You already know this and you don’t need further data. It may not be worth the frustration of taking on a project with people like this. The stress alone could hinder your productivity on other projects or assignments.
4. What is the goal of the task?
Are you going to immerse yourself in busy work or is there real substance to the project? Your interest and passion for a goal can make or break your motivation and efficacy. If you have a choice, don’t accept a task that will seem like torture. Don’t do it to yourself. Disclaimer: If you are asked to take on a task that you know is your kryptonite but that has a great deal of value to your supervisor or the college as a whole, you may want to consider sucking it up and finding a way. If it’s good for your career advancement, no may not be the way to go!
Some of you may be thinking to yourselves, “Is she crazy? I can’t say no to anything at work.” But have you tried? What’s worse? Saying no to something that you know won’t add value to your unit or your career OR saying yes to something that you know may put you over the edge and that you don’t have the time or energy for? The right tone and justification may be the strategy you need to stay sane.