Early in my career, I struggled to say no. I was asked to serve on committee after committee, to evaluate fistfuls of manuscripts and grants, and to perform dozens of other tasks, large and small. I said yes willy-nilly — often because of genuine interest, but other times out of a sense of guilt or obligation, and sometimes out of fear of reprisal if I refused.
But as I advanced in my career, the requests snowballed. Agreeing to do all of them — or even half of them — became mpossible. I needed to figure out when to say no, and how to do it artfully. Five principles have helped me learn what to say, and what not to say.
Volunteer someone else — strategically. Often when people ask you to do something, they don’t actually need you to do it. They just need the task done. Even more urgently, they need to complete the task of obtaining a commitment from someone to do it. At the moment of the "ask," they likely do not view you as the holder of unique talents or the only person who could possibly do this work. More likely, they see you as a potential checked box on their own to-do list.