An elegant way to say “no”

We’ve all been in a situation when the boss thrusts an additional task on us even as we are swamped with work. In those moments, the way we frame our refusal can make all the difference.

When stretched past our limit, we’re unable to give something our hundred percent.  Devoting limited time and energy to tasks always involves trade-offs – something that every manager ought to understand. And we can remind them of this fact by using some version of the following sentence:

“I am happy to make this new project a priority. Which of my existing projects do I deprioritize to be able to give it my hundred percent?”

Too often as employees, when we are given a new task, we either assume that we can do it all and burn the midnight oil, or end up making the trade-off and prioritizing on our own. Under these circumstances, a manager usually has the better information to make this decision. Thereby, she becomes aware of the trade-off necessary and hopefully takes something off our plate. If she doesn’t make the trade-off, she also takes some ownership of the less-than-perfect results. 

Every employee strives to do work that they are proud of. And every manager understands the need for trade-offs with people’s time. Bridging these sentiments can help us focus on the essential and deprioritize everything else.

Inspiration: Essentialism – Greg McKeown

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