“Would you get me a coffee?” That’s a question often directed to women in an office. But it shouldn’t be this way. In her 2014 book, Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office, executive coach Lois P. Frankel instructs women to turn down office tasks like fetching coffee or performing errands outside of their job description. However, you have to be careful with how you say “no” to your boss or superior. So, what’s the trick?
Saying “no” to your boss
It can be intimidating to say “no” to your boss. After all, they could fire you if they get upset. You need to be polite with your request. Frankel stated that saying a direct “no” could affect how you are perceived in the office as a woman. A 2005 study explained that women were rated less favorably in an office if they immediately withheld a work request. This could affect how your coworkers treat you.
Instead, if your boss asks you to complete a task outside of your job requirements, tell them you can’t until you’re done with your current responsibilities. You’re working on another project. Don’t say “no,” but instead say, “Thank you so much for thinking of me for this, but I was planning to spend this week working on [name of other projects].” This approach is flattering that your employer thought of you, but it also invites your boss to say, “Let’s push those other projects to the backburner.” The polite response allows for a conversation.
Let your boss know you’d be happy to complete the personal task when you have the time, but you don’t want to take time away from the job you were hired to perform. This demonstrates to your boss that you’re focused on your job and that you want to complete your assignments. This could leave a positive impression with your boss.
Saying “no” to your coworker
Maybe your coworker asks you to help her with a project. Maybe your office asks you to take notes at a meeting, even though it’s not usually your task. If you have time to help, you might want to consider helping on this special occasion, because this will help strengthen your relationship with your colleagues. But sometimes, it’s okay to say “no.”
However, just like your approach with your boss, you have to be careful with how you turn down your coworker’s request. For example, you can’t say you’re too busy because your coworker could respond, “Well, I’m also busy. That’s why I need your help.” If they find out you took on other projects before helping them, they’ll be upset.
Try being as polite as possible with your approach. Instead of saying “no,” say, “I appreciate you asking me. This sounds like an exciting project. Unfortunately, I’m not skilled in this area, so I’m afraid I wouldn’t be much help.” This approach demonstrates that you’re intrigued by the project and would help if you could, but you’re not skilled enough in your coworker’s area of expertise.
Get a man to be your ally
Women shouldn’t always fetch coffee or make phone calls. So, if you notice your boss is always asking you to complete these irrelevant tasks, talk to a male friend in your office. Politely ask him if he could be a male ally and intervene the next time your boss asks you to make coffee. Your boss might listen to the male ally.
On the other hand, if you’re a man and you notice a female colleague is always being asked to complete tasks outside of her job requirements, don’t be afraid to speak up and say you’ll do the job this time. This simple act of kindness could make an equitable workplace. Sometimes, coworkers need to help each other out in order to perform better as a team. That should always be the goal, not who makes the coffee in the breakroom.