Saying no to trivial tasks

Dear Joan:
I was recently promoted to an administrative assistant position in a real-estate firm. I am very interested in getting into management, and I am currently enrolled in a degree program.

I am happy with my job, but I am in a tricky situation with my new boss. He always asks me to do personal favors for him such as cash checks and mail bills. I am very busy and these chores are expected as if they were part of my job. I resent this but don't know how to say no. (His old assistant always did it for him.) How can I say no without seeming pushy?

Saying no to a boss can be cause for stomach knots. It can be doubly tough when you're new to a job.

Although you appear to be fully justified in not wanting to do personal errands for your boss, it will be necessary to use tact and diplomacy to communicate your position.

Take into account your boss's personal style. Does he speak and act directly and openly? Has he been very straight with you about expectations, duties and policies? If so, you might want to consider using a direct approach.

For example, the next time he asks you, you could say, "Bob, I'd like to help you but I'm really busy with these XYZ projects." Hopefully, he'll get the message.

If you don't feel that you can say no as a new employee, start saying no indirectly. For instance, when he asks you again, try saying, "Can this wait until after work? I'd like to get the XYZ project finished first." He may decide to do it himself.

If you find your boss is simply not reading between the lines, you may have to move to plan B and wait for an opportunity to do a trade. For example, as you get more experience on your job, you will be given new responsibilities. When your boss presents you with a new project, it may be time to bargain.

For example: "This new project looks like a great opportunity for me. It's going to mean that I budget my time more carefully. Would you mind if I stopped going to the post office for you? It really takes a big chunk of time out of my day. I know you're busy, too, but is there another way to work it out?"

If your boss persists in giving you personal errands, you may decide to live with it. If everything else about your job is agreeable, picking a fight on this issue may not be worth it. However, when you're given an errand, you'd be wise to negotiate a priority. For example, ask: "Do you want me to stop working on the Evans report or can your mail wait?"

As you develop a solid working relationship with your boss, it will become easier to talk openly with him. However, if you find your boss persists in giving you trivial assignments with no opportunities to use your talents, you may be better off working for a boss who knows how to coach and develop his or her employees.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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