Always remember who you’re talking to when you have to say no. If you have to say no to a Traditionalist or a Boomer supervisor, remember that these generations value work ethic, sacrifice, and long hours. Make sure you aren’t saying no in a way that communicates that you are simply unwilling to go the extra mile. Instead, try something like, “I’d love to help you with this, but I also have these other ten things on my urgent to-do list. Can you help me prioritize which things I should do first?” In this way, you’ve communicated your willingness to help, but have also made your supervisor aware of your time limitations. That way, if you do wind up saying yes to the new task, you are free to put other tasks on the backburner for a little while.
If you have to say no to a Generation Xer, remember that this generation values entrepreneurship, ambition, independence, and self-trust. Because Xers have these values, they may be more understanding than other generations when you say no, but it’s still a good idea to soften the blow. Instead of a flat out “no,” try saying something like, “I’d love to, but I’m really focused on these other three top priorities, and I’m afraid that if I take this task on right now, I won’t be able to give it the attention it deserves. Have you talked to Janet about this? I know she’s very interested in this subject—she would probably jump at the chance to help.” In this way, you communicate that you understand the importance of the request and provide an alternate solution.
If you have to say no to a Millennial, you’ll have to try a different approach. Because Millennials are team oriented, super-multitaskers, pleading too much other work might just earn you a blank stare. Instead say, “I’d love to, but you know, honestly I’m not the best person for this task. Jeff is incredibly talented in this area. Have you talked to him? He would be a much better addition to your team for this project.” Just try not to rely on this “out” too much, otherwise you risk downplaying your own talents.