It’s hard to say “no” to someone you work with. You never know when you might need someone’s help or someone to cover for you while you sneak out to go home or somewhere else important.
However, accepting to help someone else can have drastic effects on the way people perceive you at work.
There might come a moment where two or three people approach you for help just because they’ve heard how good of a person you are and start dumping their workload on you.
How can you avoid being the de facto good guy in the office and start saying “no” in order to preserve your workflow balance?
1. Keep a “to-do” list close by
To-do lists are a great way to show people how much work you have left for the day or the week.
Keeping this list on a visible spot in your office will let people know how much you are doing for the company and that you have very important matters to tend to instead of helping them out. That is to say, if you actually do have something important to do.
It’s always possible to spruce up the to-do list with some non-existing phone calls, company meetings or even outside activities, just for the nosy colleagues to have something to talk about.
Your executives will know better however and this should only be used to avoid unnecessary baggage from fellow colleagues – not from the higher-ups with strict orders prepared for you.
2. Don’t rely on “later”
Never tell someone you will help them “later” and then leave it at that. People will come back to you with a clear mindset of knowing to expect your help without further questions, regardless of whether or not you personally forgot about a favor you owe.
Be definitive in your answers without pushing something to tomorrow or next week while actually hoping for the person to leave you alone.
This will create unnecessary stress and anxiety for you because you will be constantly reminded that you have to help a colleague out at some time in the future without actually keeping tabs on the “later” you just said.
Commit to help them straight away if you have the time and patience or politely apologize and say “no” to their request. If you are both adult professionals, your colleague will understand your decision.
3. Avoid long-term promises
Making a promise to someone at work is very reminiscent of saying “later”, but much worse than that. Promises tend to be tied to indecisive timetables where you are never sure when the colleague will come knocking to ask for that promise to be kept.
A “promise” is also a very unprofessional way of sealing an office deal, no matter how close you may be with the person who asked for help. If there is some office work to be done, there are other ways to do it without asking anyone for a promise and tying them with a verbal deal.
Just like with “later”, avoid promises and stick to very short-term assignments and favors when it comes to colleagues from work.
Saying “no” all the time will surely make you look unfriendly and reserved, but doing the complete opposite will result in complete abandonment of your own obligations towards the company.
4. Lower expectations & responsibilities
A good way to avoid any unnecessary office burden is to present yourself in a modest manner without emphasizing any skills you might posses. People who present themselves as omnipotent and capable of doing everything and anything around the office are usually under a lot of stress.
Their colleagues tend to exploit these skills just for the sake of easing their own workflow without realizing how much pressure this puts on a person. Be yourself and avoid raising any notice of how good you are at your job.
While your executives and team leaders may ask you to do something they read in your resume, your colleagues might not know about these additional skills and you should keep them to yourself.
This is not because you are a selfish person by nature, it’s because people simply don’t know when enough is enough in regards to asking for help from someone like yourself.
5. Ask for more manpower
There are ways to alleviate your office responsibilities even when they come from higher positions. Asking for more manpower to help you with your project is a good way to ease the tension you might feel with an order you were given by your superiors.
Additionally, these people can sometimes be assigned to you as project team members, meaning that you would be the de facto leader of the project and free to delegate any assignments you see fit for them.
This can prove useful in a number of ways, especially when it comes to developing your leadership skills and letting you work on your own work obligations while the team does their own thing.
It’s difficult to say “no” to a superior without raising an eyebrow, but asking for help works almost all the time if you communicate it properly.
6. Interrupt your colleague’s monologue
There will always be people who assume you are interested in helping them without you saying a word to them. These people will try to push their ideas and chores on you without you even realizing what’s going on, often taking off before you can tell them “no”.
These are the people you will have to interrupt before they reach their proverbial punch line and put their work on your shoulders without an adult discussion.
This can sometimes feel awkward if you are about to refuse to help an office friend out but you do have your own things to worry about besides their obvious issues.
Speaking louder than them and just trying to gain the upper hand before they finish their monologue is the only way to stop them sometimes, as rude as it might feel while doing so.
7. Don’t say you’re “sorry”
Saying you are sorry after refusing to help someone doesn’t mean much to them. Just think of the last time you asked for help from someone and they refused to do so for whatever reason. The moment they said “no” is the moment you tuned out completely and stopped hearing their reasoning.
The same rule applies to you and stating that you are “sorry” for deciding not to help someone. This might also backfire on you given the urgency of the request you just received.
Your colleague might see this apology as a sign of regret and ask you again if you would like to help them out, leaving you very little choice in whether or not to do it at this point.
Stick to your decisions and accept them as final without being sorry about what you decided.
It will never be easy to tell someone “no” at work, no matter how fond or distant you may be to that person. Office work should always be discussed and delegated accordingly because everyone is essentially striving towards the same company goal.
However, some people simply don’t realize the meaning of “delegation” and try to put their own work on other people’s platter.
Do your own work diligently and try to be as independent of promises and favors as is possible because you will have to indulge in them every once in a while to stay on good terms.