6 ways communicators can say ‘no’

Feel like you’re getting roped into projects that aren’t part of your job and don’t use your talents well? Here are a few ways to politely refuse.

At a recent happy hour for PR, marketing, and communications professionals, the talk turned to work matters. We all began sharing our triumphs, struggles, ideas and solutions.

Factoring in staffing constraints, workloads, and sometimes-outlandish demands from clients and executives, communications professionals are universally overworked. Increasingly they’re being asked to do more with less. We began discussing ideas on how to gracefully say “no” to a project that simply can’t be taken on.

Here are some ideas shared by the group, which PR Daily readers might find useful.

Just say “no.” This is easier said than done. I once worked in a department where the director told her staff that they couldn’t say “no” to anything. She ended up with many of her employees organizing parties and ordering refreshments along with setting up marketing launches and media events. There is nothing wrong with saying, “We don’t set up or monitor surveys, but we can help you write the survey questions,” or “Please have someone take the picture and send it to us.”

Create a statement of work or a department manifesto. Follow the lead of engineers and information technology types who are experts at fighting “scope creep.” A statement of work outlines the exact parameters of the project and specifies dates, what’s expected, and who will do what. A department manifesto describes exactly what your department does and does not do. For example: “We are not content experts, but we can help your content experts shape the message.”

Focus only on what you are “good to excellent” at. For instance, if no one in your department knows how to edit video, outsource it to someone who does. You may be able to find a film student who can edit for you at a reasonable price. Don’t spin your wheels and waste time on something that isn’t in your toolbox.

Don’t go down paths that lead nowhere. “Proof of concept”: No three words have resulted in more wasted time for a communicator. With too many deadlines and genuine projects on our plates, very few of us have time for a “proof of concept.” Just say “no” if someone wants to involve you early in a project that has not yet been approved or that has little chance of being approved.

Ask people to do things for themselves. Have employees submit photos rather than sending someone to take a photo. Set up self-service forms on your intranet. Convert design files or PDFs to Word documents and let others edit and make changes directly to the document. When it makes sense, turn over the tasks to others.

Prioritize with leadership. Every six weeks, ask your client or the leader of the department you are working with what you need to be talking about. What are the most important things we want our audience to say and do? Find out from the top what the priorities are. Use that to guide what you work on and what you don’t.

Ragan readers, any other ideas on how to say “no?”

Laura Hale Brockway is an Austin-based writer and editor. Read more of her work at impertinentremarks.com.

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