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Admin Pro Forum

How to say 'No'

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Question: I am the administrative assistant for a company of about 45 people.  We do billing for multiple facilities, so I am answering the phone all day long. That's besides my regular duties: I also have to scan and distribute the mail, and help the president and vice president with daily duties, not to mention month-end duties.  I also put everything together for new hires.

I do much more than just answer the phones, which is what I believe my co-workers think I do. I am pulled very thin.  Then, I have staff members who need something done NOW.

I love where I work and I don't plan on leaving. But how do I say: "No, I can't help you right now; I have my own job to do"?  Any suggestions?  -- Tami, Wisconsin


Sit down with your manager and reivew your job description, job performance review and goals for 2005. Tell him/her what the issues are and ask for suggestions. Be realistic and honest in what you say. This is a lose/lose situation. Answering a busy switchboard AND being an administrative assistant are two separate jobs, but most companies think that one person can manage. Find out what the priorities of the job are and stick to them. If you can't do something, say no. If they have an issue with that, have them speak to your manager.

This is an issue for your manager. You need to discuss this with her and offer solutions to the problem. I had a job a receptionist where I was also an assistant. This is impossible if your switchboard is busy. I did so much my average work week was 55 hours. When people ask you to do things and you don't have time simply say, that your to do list is full or that you can't get to it that day. Its annoying to do this but I actually I had to say I can do this after I complete this, that and the other thing. When you tell them the number of things that are taking priority over their request, they'll get the hint. Ultimately, your manager needs to implement some changes.

One of the nicest and most effective ways I've found is to change my "no" to "not right now", followed by a definite time to do it. The key to making it work is to be sincere (don't just make up excuses), and follow through with your promises.

For example, when one of my pushiest co-workers tried to consistently dump projects on me, my response was, "I'm in the middle of XYZ project right now; however, I have some time Thursday afternoon. How soon do you need this?" After several such responses, he finally figured out the time constraints I face, plus he handles a lot more of his own work now.

I'm a programmer, and I keep my to-do list prioritized for all to see. My boss can change the priorities, everyone else has to live with them. If you have weekly/daily/hourly tasks, publish them too.

Information is a good tool, people who are not informed often make poor decisions.

I agree with some comments above, too

The word "no" is very liberating and if done properly, no one should take offense. Also, offering an alternative helps. I use "My plate is full right now, perhaps (staff member name) can help you." or "I'm busy right now, would (give a time) be okay?" Keep your voice pleasant and professional.

It may take a few times, but eventually they will understand that you are willing to help when able, but don't have unlimited free time.

If you like your job and are basically happy working at this company, I would suggest that you try saying to those who bring you projects to do "Be glad to, when do you need it completed by?" If you can meet their expectations, then fine but if not, then reply with "Oh, I am sorry but I have XXX to complete, how about I do no later than XXX?"

I have found in my years of experience, that you really never want to come off as "this is not my job" or "I don't have time", because you know, some companies will find some one that does.

By getting completion dates and times, you are still doing your job as an excellent employee and at the same time, freeing up some of your stress level.

If anyone has an issue with your statements, then simply reply "I understand and if you speak with my Manager and he/she wishes to push back something else, I will be glad to handle".

When approached by a co-worker with a project for you, ask them: "When do you need this?" Make them give you a deadline. If you can do it in the requested time, go ahead. If their timeframe won't work, explain your current project list or work load and negotiate with them on the deadline. They will either wait until you can reasonably manage their issue or find another way to get it accomplished. This should also help to build respect for you as your coworkers will have an opportunity to see more of what you are working on while they think you're just answering phones.

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