When to Say “No” to an Assignment

If you’re reading this article you are serious about your career. And if you’re serious about your career, you may already be among the top performers of your peer group at work. In that case, you may be given high quality work because your manager knows she can rely on you. Another by-product of a great reputation is that the quantity of your work also edges up. Believe me; if I have a choice, I’m going to ask my most capable associate to help me out.

So, what do you say when you’re asked to take on more work than the next five professionals at your same level?

Generally, “thank you,” is a good response. You’re trying to build your reputation; you want to be viewed as good, smart, efficient and possibly stoic. You also don’t want to turn down an assignment because you don’t like the project or you don’t like the manager. Once you earn your stripes, you will be able to exert much more influence over your project choices.

But occasionally, you could actually damage your career if you take on more work. You’ll know when that time arises. It’s not when your workload seems unfair; it’s when more work would compromise your performance. And when that situation occurs, no one will care how heavy your workload is, they will just be annoyed that you screwed up. So, how do professionals become so overloaded? They don’t decline projects when they should, possibly because they are afraid to say no. But we should remember, managers are human too (not all, but most.) Tell your boss that you can take on more but you think the quality will suffer. Often, managers really don’t know.

I remember overhearing my boss bragging that he had me on seven deals and I was handling them all and blah, blah, blah. I heard that and thought, Uhh… No…I’m not. Something ugly is about to hit the fan. It did. And I ticked a few people off. All because I was afraid to say no. But I learned. Hopefully, you can too, without repeating my mistake.