Here's exactly how to tell your boss you have too much work without saying 'no'

Altitude Visual/Shutterstock.comYou’ll face situations where you can’t do everything that is being asked of you.
  • John Heggestuen leads research for Business Insider Intelligence and manages a team of more than 20 analysts and editors in New York and London.
  • He says that it’s important to realise that effective managers delegate tasks that are high priority and saying “no” can leave the wrong impression.
  • In his career, he’s found that how he communicates that he has too much work has a big impact on whether his manager agrees to adjusted deadlines as well as his reputation as a team player.
  • He advises communicating empathy and a solution to the problem in order to have the best chance at success.

Demanding jobs aren’t for everyone, but for those of us who like a challenge, they can be very fulfilling. If you’re really pushing yourself, you’ll face situations where you can’t do everything that is being asked of you.

When your manager gives you more than you can handle, how you communicate it can have a big impact on your career. It’s something I’ve learned interacting with my own managers and through my experience leading the Business Insider Intelligence research team.

When managers ask for too much, it’s often unintentional. And there is a great way to let them know, while keeping them happy.

1. Ask yourself whether the amount of work you have is reasonable for your role

Or, is this a unique situation where it makes sense for you work beyond what is considered normal?

If the answer is yes to either, then you’ll need to suck it up and handle the work. If you can’t handle what’s required for your role, then proceeding is just going to make you look incompetent.

2. Say: ‘I know this task is important and I can definitely prioritise it’

This is a critical step, and it’s all about empathy. Put yourself in your manager’s shoes and realise that they often have more work than they feel like they can get done – just like you. Effective managers succeed by prioritising the things that really matter and the last thing they want to hear is that you don’t share their priorities.

When you start with this step, it lets your manager know that you’ve listened, you understand that what’s been asked is important, and you share the same goals. Once you’ve said this they will be much more likely to listen to what you have to say next.

3. Then, say: ‘These are my priorities for this week’

This is where you remind your manager of the other important things they have asked for. Make sure the tasks that you mention fall within the deadline of the new task – if the new task is due in a week, you communicate your priorities for that week.

Managers often forget about everything you’re doing, particularly when they are responsible for a big team. When my direct reports remind me of what they are working on, I often realise that what I’m asking for isn’t realistic before they even get to the next step.

4. Finally, say: ‘In order to complete this new task by next week, I can push
this other deadline back’

Now that your manager has the full picture of what you’re up to, you can begin to negotiate. Keep the tone positive and propose a solution, so that you’re not creating more work.

Do your homework and figure out the least important thing on your list of priorities and propose pushing that deadline back – that will increase the likelihood that your manager will agree to your solution.

When you take these steps, a good manager will often realise that they have asked for too much and accept the solution you’ve offered. It also gives them enough information to re-prioritise what they want done if they aren’t satisfied with your solution.

Finally, they will feel heard, which can go a long way in building your reputation as a team player. This approach won’t work every single time, but you’ll have a good shot at success.

John Heggestuen is the Vice President of Research for Business Insider Intelligence, Business Insider’s premium market research service covering digital transformation. He manages a team of over 20 analysts and editors in New York and London.

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