Saying "no" can be difficult in a society where we like to be able to do it all - particularly if you're a born people-pleaser, and especially when the person you need to say no to is your boss. There are times, though, when saying no is necessary.
- When you're already swamped. If your boss asks you to take on another important task and you're already up to your elbows in paperwork, it can be hard to say no. Especially if you're gunning for a promotion and want to prove yourself. Instead of flatly denying their request, take a few minutes to discuss your current workload and ask if you can re-prioritise less urgent tasks. It will show you're willing to be flexible, and allow you to get everything done, without the need for unnecessary overtime.
- When it's a personal errand. If you're a personal assistant, running personal errands is likely to be part of your job description. If not, and your boss asks you to nip out and pick up their dry cleaning, it's okay to say no. Let them know you have other work-related tasks you need to take care of, and suggest an alternative, such as a dry cleaner who does pick ups and drop off to the office.
- When you're out of your depth. If your boss asks you to work on something you have no experience in, and you're worried your knowledge gap could prove to be a problem, talk to them about your concerns. Express your desire to learn and take on new challenges, and ask if you can work on the task with another team member who does have relevant experience (so you can fly solo next time), or under their supervision. Honesty is the best policy, and your boss will be impressed with your ability to acknowledge your limitations while also working towards developing your skill-set.
- When it's inappropriate. There's a difference between your boss asking you if you'd like to join them and other colleagues for a drink after work, and asking you out on a date. As a general rule of thumb, if ever something feels inappropriate, trust your instincts and make it clear you're not interested. Saying you're already seeing someone or that you don't date colleagues will usually send a clear message, without making it an issue. If they don't get the hint, head straight to HR. Any form of harassment or inappropriate advances should never be tolerated.
Building a good professional rapport with your boss, so you can communicate with them openly and honestly, is vital. Maintain your cool and professionalism, and if in doubt, seek the guidance of your HR manager.
If your boss asks you to work on something you have no experience in, and you're worried your knowledge gap could prove to be a problem, talk to them about your concerns.