Consider this classic workplace dilemma: You are sitting behind a huge pile of work and someone approaches you with another task to do. You know that one more project will start an avalanche of workplace stress, fatigue and disappointments. You want to play nice and please everyone—in fact, you feel obligated to say “yes.” But you also know that agreeing to the added task jeopardizes your reputation for quality work and meeting deadlines. There’s no way you can finish all of your current projects plus this additional one without sacrificing on something.
Good news: There are ways to handle the situation without damaging your reputation. The key is to remain confident and fully aware of your capabilities and limitations. Start by keeping a running list of all your current projects and commitments. Create a daily schedule of specific action steps that need to be completed within the next week or so. This strategy arms you with the information you need when future assignments pop up.
When that inevitable new project presents itself, don’t panic. Resist the temptation to say “No” right away because snap decisions make you appear spontaneous and pessimistic. The person making the request needs to see that you have thoroughly thought things through. Find out details about the assignment, clarify the expectations and timeline, and then respond using one or more of these tactics:
- Buy time. Say “I’ll check my schedule and get back to you.” Now you can think clearly without feeling cornered.
- Indicate compromise. State “Although you need this by Friday, I’m not available to do it until next week. Will that be OK?” The requester can wait for you to be available or seek someone else who can complete the task sooner.
- Offer partial assistance. Say “I can’t do what you ask, but I can help by…” Volunteering for a portion or different aspect of the work demonstrates your willingness to cooperate.
- Make it work. Consult your boss about changing priorities and make the new task fit into your schedule.
- Respectfully decline. Express the news in person or over the phone since email messages can be misconstrued. Never begin your rejection with “I’m sorry” because that sounds like you are doing something wrong by saying “No.” Instead say something like “I have prior commitments that prevent me from taking on this project.” Don’t make it sound like you are wavering, because then you may be pressed further until you say “Yes.”
What other ways have you handled assignment requests when workplace stress is already overwhelming you?
[Image Source: Casey Serin]