The Delicate Act of Saying No

One of the most typical career questions I get is from recent college grads who are at the bottom of the totem poke.  Often, they have two or more senior colleagues who delegate work to them.  Unfortunately, there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything, and they find that they’re either saying no to someone all the time, or they’re working until they drop.

This is a tough situation, because you want to be perceived as a can-do, enthusiastic employee and should therefore try to avoid actually uttering the word “No” to anyone you work with.  However, you have to be mindful of your own stress level and sanity too.

I recommend trying to pre-empt situations in which you will have to decline an assignment, specifically by formalizing your daily responsibilities with your official boss.  Talk to your boss about who on the team is authorized to delegate work to you and note the type of assignments you can expect from each person.

If one of your managers comes to you with an assignment but your time is already accounted for, tell that manager that you wish you could help, but you are working on another project that requires your attention.  Either you can go to your boss directly and ask him which task you should prioritize, or you can give the manager the option of speaking to your boss about it herself.

Remember to stress how much you enjoy working with this manager, because you want her to leave with the perception that you really do want to do the task and can’t help being caught between conflicting responsibilities.  In a nutshell: get your boss to say “no” for you and keep yourself looking good to everyone!

Tagged as , , decision-making, , managing your boss, prioritization, relationships, time management, .

Alexandra Levit

Alexandra Levit’s goal is to help people find meaningful jobs - quickly and simply - and to succeed beyond measure once they get there. A former nationally syndicated columnist for the Wall Street Journal and a current contributor for Fortune and Metro US, Alexandra has authored several books, including the bestselling They Don't Teach Corporate in College, How'd You Score That Gig?, Success for Hire, MillennialTweet, and New Job, New You. Her book on the top myths of business success is due out from Penguin/Berkley in the fall of 2011. Since serving as a member of Business Roundtable's Springboard Project, which advised the Obama administration on current workplace issues, Alexandra produced the critically acclaimed JobSTART 101 (, a free online course that better prepares college students and graduates for the challenges of the workplace. She is a frequent national media spokesperson and has been featured in thousands of outlets including the New York Times, USA Today, National Public Radio, ABC News, Fox News, CNBC, the Associated Press, Glamour, and Cosmopolitan. In 2010, she was named Money Magazine's Online Career Expert of the Year and the author of one of Forbes' best websites for women. Known as one of the premiere spokespeople of her generation, Alexandra regularly speaks at conferences, universities, and corporations around the world including the American Society for Training and Development, Campbell's Soup, McDonalds, and Whirlpool — on issues facing modern employees such as how to communicate effectively between generations.

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